It’s probably not worth spending too much time on Charles Krauthammer’s long whine of a column today, in which he blames President Obama for "losing" the Iraq war which was "won" in 2008 by failing to convince the government of Iraq to accept a continuing U.S. troop presence. Stationing significant numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq represented the last shred of possible vindication that the war’s supporters could have hoped for out of America’s strategically disastrous Iraq folly, and now that this has been denied them, they’re throwing temper tantrums, of which Krauthammer’s is only the latest and purplest.
The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. Message received. Just this past week, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurds — for two decades the staunchest of U.S. allies — visited Tehran to bend a knee to both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It didn’t have to be this way. Our friends did not have to be left out in the cold to seek Iranian protection.
We "exposed" Iraq to Iranian influence the moment we removed Saddam Hussein and created an Iraqi government largely run by Iran’s partners and clients. This is something Krauthammer has a record of remembering and forgetting as it suits his argumentative purposes.
As for the idea that Massoud Barzani’s visit to Tehran demonstrates some new orientation, here’s Barzani in October 2008 assuring the Iranians that “We will never allow any action to take place against Iran from Iraqi territory.” He was in Tehran at the time.
The second point is the notion that Obama administration could’ve negotiated a compromise on the immunity issue if only… something:
[Obama] failed, though he hardly tried very hard. The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem and overcame it. Obama had little desire to.
The immunity issue was one that threatened to scuttle the original SOFA negotiations 2008, and was only overcome because Bush relented on a hard timeline for withdrawal, which he had previously opposed. Treating the immunity issue as simply an "excuse" is a clear admission that Charles is just fooling around. Fortunately, today’s Washington Post op-ed page features this corrective from Brett McGurk, who has worked on Iraq policy for nearly eight years under both the Bush and Obama administrations. McGurk writes:
The decision to complete our withdrawal was not the result of a failed negotiation but rather the byproduct of an independent Iraq that has an open political system and a 325-member parliament, whose proceedings are televised daily. U.S. and Iraqi legal experts determined that any new accord required parliamentary approval to ensure U.S. troops would be immune from Iraqi laws. No bloc in parliament other than the Kurds supported that requirement.
Consequently, our trying to force an agreement through the Iraqi parliament would have been self-destructive. That had nothing to do with Iran and everything to do with Iraqi pride, history and nationalism. Even the most staunchly anti-Iranian Iraqi officials refused to publicly back a residual U.S. force — and in the end, they supported our withdrawal.
See also J.P. Schnapper-Casteras’ piece on this, posted here yesterday.
Krathammer’s column, though, is a great reminder of why he’s such a popular pundit among conservatives: He tells them the fairy tales they require.