August 30, 2012

Setting the Record Straight on Obama and Iraq

A few months ago, it was still fashionable on the American Right to blame President Obama for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq and thus squandering any residual U.S. leverage over events there. I pressed back on this narrative, pointing out that it was the Bush Administration that, to its credit, successfully negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement in the fall of 2008 that established the terms for the U.S. withdrawal. It was not logical, I argued, for critics of the Democratic Obama Administration to blame it for faithfully executing a course of action established by the Republican Bush Administration.

The American Left, though, is increasingly giving the president credit for the withdrawal from Iraq. Here is former New York Times editor Jospeh Lelyveld writing in the New York Review of Books:

Barack Obama can claim two big foreign policy accomplishments: getting American forces out of Iraq and compressing his predecessor’s expansive, grandiose-sounding “Global War on Terror” into a narrowly focused, unremitting campaign against the remnants of the al-Qaeda network, relying largely on high-tech intelligence gathering and pilotless drones.

The Left needs to be reminded, today, of what we reminded the Right yesterday. The Bush Administration started the disastrous war in Iraq, but it also ended it. I remember the debates on Iraq in the 2008 presidential campaign, and what neither campaign was quick to acknowledge was that the U.S. mandate in Iraq expired on 1 January 2009 and that it would thus be the Bush Administration -- and neither a McCain or Obama Administration -- that would negotiate a withdrawal with the government in Baghdad. Campaign debates over Iraq policy were thus of little consequence. Any administration would inherit a policy largely dictated by the parameters established by the one that preceded it.

The Right wants to blame the Obama Administration for withdrawing from Iraq without recognizing the role played by the Bush Administration in 2008. The Left, by contrast, wants to give the president credit for withdrawing from Iraq -- again without recognizing the role played by the Bush Administration. Neither should be allowed to both have their cake and eat it too.