We knew it was coming and now here it is. Read this post from last weekend, when the rumors first started flying, for the background you won’t get here from O. We were always scheduled to be out by New Year’s per Bush’s troop agreement with Maliki, but U.S. commanders on the ground reportedly wanted at least 10,000 and possibly as many as 27,000 troops held over to continue help building Iraq’s security infrastructure. Instead they got this. The sticking point between the U.S. and Iraq was legal immunity for American troops, but I don’t think either side was pushing hard. Obama wants everyone out ASAP so that he can boast next year on the trail about having brought the troops home (his very first words here are about having kept a campaign promise) and Maliki and his Shiite allies want everyone out ASAP so that they can begin to consolidate power in earnest — with Iran’s help, natch. The only party that’s truly heartbroken by the announcement, I assume, is Iraq’s Sunnis, who have now lost the thin green line buffering them from Maliki and Iran. Imagine what the residents of Anbar are thinking today with a civil war exploding on one side of them in Syria and on the other side, in Iraq’s east and south, the Shiites now given a free hand against them. And all this at a moment when tensions between Iran and its Sunni archrival in Saudi Arabia are higher than they’ve ever been thanks to the terror plot against the Saudi ambassador in D.C. If you thought 2011 was an interesting year in the Middle East, wait until next year when the Iran/Saudi proxy war gets going in earnest. I thought Syria would be ground zero for that. Not anymore.
O insists here that we’ll have a “strong and enduring partnership” with Iraq going forward, but as I say, read last weekend’s post to see why that’s unlikely. Maliki’s already drifting towards becoming an Iranian stooge/strongman; the further the drift, the more unlikely the “partnership” will be. I still can’t believe our first major international action towards Iran after their terror plot was revealed is to evacuate the state they’ve been cultivating as a client — especially when the standoff over their nuclear program is coming to a head — but that troop immunity agreement was a perfect poison pill for our side. Obama’s not about to leave American soldiers at the mercy of Iraqi courts and Shiite powerbrokers in Iraq and Iran knew it, so they insisted upon it in the conviction that Obama would have no choice but to walk away and cede the field to them. Smart thinking. Mission accomplished.
Update: Yep: “President Obama’s speech formally declaring that the last 43,000 U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year was designed to mask an unpleasant truth: the troops aren’t being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They’re leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay.”