October 17, 2021

Obama Can’t Escape His Responsibility for the Iraq Crisis


President Obama over the weekend said he could have done more to stop the violence in Iraq if it were not for the Iraqi government’s refusal to let some U.S. troops stay after 2011 and the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to forecast the severity of the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) terrorist group.

These statements are just the latest examples of this president’s incompetence on foreign policy and boundless mendacity.

Most experts believe there is a good chance Prime Minister Maliki could have been dissuaded from crackdowns by his security forces against Iraqi Sunnis which caused sectarian tensions to explode since early 2012  and contributed to the rise of ISIS if the United States had left behind a small contingent of troops to perform training and limited counter-terrorism operations after the formal withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011.

The President is claiming he wanted to leave some U.S. troops behind in Iraq after 2011 but was prevented from doing so by the Iraqi government because a status of forces agreement could not be reached due to Baghdad’s refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. troops.

The truth is that the Obama administration didn’t try very hard to resolve this issue and used it as an excuse to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.  The Obama administration dragged its feet on talks with the Iraqi government to ensure a status of forces agreement would not be reached before the December 2011 withdrawal deadline.  President Obama also insisted that if an agreement was reached it would have to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament and not just with Prime Minister Maliki.  This created an obstacle that probably could not have been overcome before the withdrawal deadline.

Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) believe the Obama administration sabotaged negotiations to leave some U.S. troops behind in Iraq after 2011 by intentionally refusing to provide the Iraqi government with a solid number of how many U.S. forces would remain.  Senator Graham told Fox News Radio on July 15 that the Obama administration’s claim that it diligently tried and failed to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq “falls into the category of ‘if you like your healthcare you can keep it,” saying it was a “complete rewriting of history.”

The President is also repeating claims his administration made in June that he was caught off guard by the rapid advances in Iraq by ISIS because of a failure by U.S. intelligence agencies to provide adequate warning about the ISIS threat.

Congressman Mike Rogers, (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disagrees. He says the Iraq crisis is a policy and not an intelligence failure.

Rogers says the signs were there about the ISIS threat and the deteriorating situation in Iraq but Obama officials ignored them. He contends that “It was very clear to me years ago that ISIS was pooling up in a dangerous way — building training camps, drawing in jihadists from around the world. We saw all of that happening.”

I agree with Chairman Rogers. There was a wealth of information in the news media over the last year that a sectarian war was brewing in Iraq and ISIS was gaining strength in both Iraq and Syria. I am certain U.S. intelligence agencies provided similar assessments to U.S. officials based on classified information.

The event that should have caused Obama officials to shift their approach to Iraq occurred last December when ISIS seized control of Fallujah and parts of the city of Ramadi. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn issued a public warning about the significance of this development in February when he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS “will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria.”

Despite the president’s denials, history will show that Mr Obama’s rush to withdraw all American troops from Iraq and his administration’s neglect of that country after the U.S troop withdrawal contributed significantly to the deterioration of security in Iraq since 2011 and the rise of ISIS.  Given the president’s other foreign policy missteps and his failure to recognize his mistakes, I worry how much more damage he will do to global security in his remaining 29 months in office.