Obama risks fueling the reverse dynamic. Iraqis listen to his speeches and hear that withdrawal, not victory, is his highest priority. They see that America appears more concerned with engaging a hegemonic Iran than consolidating a democratic Iraq. On their visits to Washington, they knew that, until the position was finally filled last week, no senior official close to the president had been charged with overseeing Iraq policy.
“Are you Americans still here?” a top Iraqi leader asked me only half jokingly during a recent visit to Iraq. The vacuum being created by the perception of growing U.S. disinterest is palpable. At least before this month’s turmoil in Iran, the void was being filled increasingly by the Islamic Republic. Iranian influence operations had escalated significantly since the Obama administration entered office, manifested most obviously in a surge of high-level Iranian visitors to Iraq.
Once again deeply uncertain about America’s long-term commitment to their future, Iraqis are starting to hedge their bets in unhelpful ways.