What many of these critics don’t like about Obama—what they mistakenly, or misleadingly, call “disinterest”—is his disinclination to go to war. And who can blame him? Two years after the last American soldier left Iraq, the place is ablaze in sectarian conflict, hundreds of civilians dying every week. Afghanistan awaits an uncertain fate as the troops head toward the exits there.
Some blame Obama for these failures, too. If only he’d kept a few thousand troops in Iraq and made an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan, they claim, the insurgents would be cowed, the central governments would be stable, and the people would be prosperous and secure.
To believe these claims requires a twisted view of the two wars and a deep misunderstanding of power in the modern world.
First, the wars. It’s maddening to have to repeat this fact over and over, but George W. Bush—not Barack Obama—negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, which required the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. One clause allowed the deadline to be extended by the vote of both countries’ parliaments, but the Iraqi parliament wasn’t about to do any such thing. Obama dispatched emissaries, including one who’d also worked in the Bush White House, to see if some deal could be arranged. It couldn’t.