And, thus this bizzare political and policy spectacle continues, as President Obama planned to re-send troops into Iraq, first without legal protections, subjecting these returning troops in a time of heightened danger and crisis to the same precarious legal situation he claimed was the reason for pulling troops out quickly in 2011 when he and the Maliki government couldn’t come to a Status of Forces Agreement. When that raised eyebrows, Obama of 2014 executed a mini version of the Status of Forces Agreement within days that he said was impossible to reach in 2011, when it might have prevented the current humanitarian and foreign policy disaster in Iraq. And, it seems this agreement was executed in the exact way critics of the Obama withdrawal in 2011 suggested it could have been achieved then.
U.S. officials announced on Monday that they had secured legal protections from Iraq’s government for 300 American special-operations forces being sent to Iraq to advise the Iraqi military.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, issued identical statements saying Iraq has committed to providing protections equivalent to the diplomatic immunity that the embassy staff currently holds.
Iraq, Mr. Earnest and Adm. Kirby said, has provided “acceptable assurances” through the exchange of diplomatic notes. Diplomatic notes are a formal means of correspondence between governments that can be used for international agreements.
Flashback to Josh Rogin’s Foreign Policy piece in 2011, “How the Obama Administration Bungled the Iraq Withdrawal Negoatiations:”
As recently as August, Maliki’s office was discussing allowing 8,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops to remain until next year, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie said in an interview with The Cable. He told us that there was widespread support in Iraq for such an extension, but the Obama administration was demanding that immunity for U.S. troops be endorsed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was never really possible.
Administration sources and Hill staffers also tell The Cable that the demand that the troop immunity go through the Council of Representatives was a decision made by the State Department lawyers and there were other options available to the administration, such as putting the remaining troops on the embassy’s diplomatic rolls, which would automatically give them immunity.
“An obvious fix for troop immunity is to put them all on the diplomatic list; that’s done by notification to the Iraqi foreign ministry,” said one former senior Hill staffer. “If State says that this requires a treaty or a specific agreement by the Iraqi parliament as opposed to a statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry, it has its head up its ass.”
The Obama administration is still arguing that this must go through parliament at some point, which makes it a bit more of a stickler about the Iraqi constitution system than ours, I suppose:
After announcing the deployment of military advisers last week, U.S. officials initially suggested the extra personnel would operate under diplomatic immunity. But on Friday, Adm. Kirby said a separate agreement would be necessary and that the U.S. and Iraqi governments were involved in negotiations.
Mr. Earnest and Adm. Kirby said the protections would be “adequate to the short-term assessment and advisory mission.”
U.S. officials have said if U.S. forces need to remain in Iraq for a longer period, a more formal agreement, approved by the country’s parliament, likely would be necessary to ensure troops have adequate legal protections.
Meanwhile, harsh words for the Obama doctrine in Iraq from unexpected precincts. As Peter Beinart puts it in the “Atlantic,” it’s “disastrous,” and “it’s time people who aren’t Republican operatives began saying so.” In Beinart’s assessment of the administration’s miscalculations, you’ll recognize archetypal Obama instincts: The desire to get out of Iraq to satisfy domestic political concerns, a view of the world as it should be instead of how it is, and a seemingly perfect faith in his own words to ensure complex actors in complex theaters act as he prefers, because after all, that is the only sensible course of action.
The decline of U.S. leverage in Iraq simply reinforced the attitude Obama had held since 2009: Let Maliki do whatever he wants so long as he keeps Iraq off the front page.
On December 12, 2011, just days before the final U.S. troops departed Iraq, Maliki visited the White House. According to Nasr, he told Obama that Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, an Iraqiya leader and the highest-ranking Sunni in his government, supported terrorism. Maliki, argues Nasr, was testing Obama, probing to see how the U.S. would react if he began cleansing his government of Sunnis. Obama replied that it was a domestic Iraqi affair. After the meeting, Nasr claims, Maliki told aides, “See! The Americans don’t care.”
In public remarks after the meeting, Obama praised Maliki for leading “Iraq’s most inclusive government yet.” Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, another Sunni, told CNN he was “shocked” by the president’s comments. “There will be a day,” he predicted, “whereby the Americans will realize that they were deceived by al-Maliki … and they will regret that.”
A week later, the Iraqi government issued a warrant for Hashimi’s arrest. Thirteen of his bodyguards were arrested and tortured. Hashimi fled the country and, while in exile, was sentenced to death.
“Over the next 18 months,” writes Pollack, “many Sunni leaders were arrested or driven from politics, including some of the most non-sectarian, non-violent, practical and technocratic.” Enraged by Maliki’s behavior, and emboldened by the prospect of a Sunni takeover in neighboring Syria, Iraqi Sunnis began reconnecting with their old jihadist allies. Yet, in public at least, the Obama administration still acted as if all was well.
Click through to read about another meeting between the two and Obama’s subsequent remarks. He didn’t say he looked the man in the eye and got a sense of his soul, but he might as well have.
It’s perfectly rational to hold the view that getting into Iraq was the wrong decision AND that getting out when and how we did was also the wrong decision, frittering away years of hard-fought gains that could likely have been preserved and given us an Iraq that would have been a better strategic partner than most everything else in the post-Arab Spring Middle East right now. I suspect that partly explains why Obama’s overall numbers on Iraq and foreign policy are so low right now despite the fact that most Americans agree with his instincts to stay out of the area, and why fewer people support withdrawal now than did in 2011 when the president was telling us everything was stable.