It is now official. All uniformed U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. There are two major ways of describing this. One is by President Obama, who says that he is thereby keeping an electoral promise he made in 2008. The second is by the Republican presidential candidates, who have condemned Obama for not doing what they say the U.S. military wanted, which is to keep some U.S. troops there after Dec. 31 as “trainers” to the Iraqi military. According to Mitt Romney, Obama’s decision was either “the result of naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government.”
Both statements are nonsense, and merely represent self-justifying arguments for the American electorate. Obama tried his hardest, and in total conjunction with the U.S. military commanders and the Pentagon, to keep U.S. troops there after Dec. 31. He failed, not because of ineptitude, but because the Iraqi political leaders forced the U.S. troops to leave. The withdrawal marks the culmination of the U.S. defeat in Iraq, one comparable to the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.
What really happened? For the last eighteen months at least, the U.S. authorities have been trying as hard as they could to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqis that would override the one signed by President George W. Bush to withdraw all troops by Dec. 31, 2011. They failed, but not for want to trying hard.
By any definition, the most pro-American groups are the Sunni groups led by Ayad Allawi, a man with notoriously close links with the CIA, and the party of Jalal Talebani, Kurdish president of Iraq. Both men in the end said, no doubt reluctantly, that it was better that U.S. troops leave.
The Iraqi leader who tried hardest to arrange for U.S. troops to remain was Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. He obviously believed that the poor ability of the Iraqi military to maintain order would lead to new elections in which his own position would be gravely weakened, and he would probably cease to be prime minister.