This story began four months ago, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told troops in Iraq that the US would keep a troop presence there if requested to do so by the Iraqi government — which contradicted an avalanche of campaign pledges from Barack Obama. Over the last few months, it became clear that the US wasn’t just open to considering a request, but actively trying to get the Iraqis to make one. Yesterday, the Obama administration got its wish — by applying lots of pressure to get that request:
Under intense U.S. pressure, Iraqi leaders announced early Wednesday they had agreed to start negotiations on keeping some American soldiers in the country after the current Dec. 31 deadline for all U.S. troops to have left Iraq.
The decision was announced following more than four hours of closed-door talks led by President Jalal Talabani. Most reporters had rushed home to beat the 1 a.m. curfew still in force.
A U.S. embassy official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the Iraqi talks said that any agreement with Iraq to keep soldiers here would require immunity from criminal prosecution for all U.S. military personnel, an issue that would have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament.
It isn’t until the eighth paragraph that McClatchy mentions that this will violate one of the central tenets of the 2007-8 Obama presidential campaign:
President Barack Obama made withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq a campaign pledge but in recent months, U.S. officials have raised a variety of reasons, including threats from Iran, for why both the U.S. and Iraq would benefit from a continued American military presence.
Now, where have I heard that strategy before? Oh, that’s right … John McCain. He cited the need to keep a bulwark against Iranian aggression in the region by maintaining a peacetime presence in Iraq, on the same model we have used in South Korea and Germany. How did the DNC react to McCain’s explanation of what amounted to strategic common sense? They produced an ad accusing McCain of cheering for “100 years of war,” which the New York Times immediately defended in its usual hacktastic fashion.
The US wants to maintain a military presence in Iraq of less than 10,000 troops, a reasonable number for a strategic presence, if not an entirely tactical presence. That would serve as a tripwire against Iranian aggression, but won’t be so intrusive as to be unnecessarily provocative. It also won’t be robust enough to defend itself in a major incursion, but the US has enough logistical capacity to get support in a reasonably quick time frame. A partnership makes good sense for the Iraqis, who still lack an air force of any significance, and for the US as well to keep Iran boxed in on both sides.
Obama won’t have any trouble selling this to conservatives. He’s going to have some explaining to do to his base, who will react poorly to US troops remaining in Iraq, and to those independents for whom this reversal will mark Obama as an amateur and a flip-flopper.