Does President Obama “Own” Post-Withdrawal Iraq?


I need someone to explain to me this idea that President Obama “owns” the situation in Iraq. As I work to catch up on some of the Iraq pull-out commentary from over the holidays, I won’t try to match the depth of Steve Clemons’ counterpoint to Fred and Kimberly Kagan’s recent Weekly Standard piece. Instead, I’ll direct some of the views I share with Steve toward engaging Peter Feaver over at Shadow Government and ploughing the ground Feaver stakes out: setting fair terms to judge the president’s Iraq policy. His question is “Can Obama take credit for ending the Iraq War without taking blame for what happens next?” To which my answer is: “why the hell not?”

Feaver cries foul on the attempt he sees by Obama supporters to give him full credit for anything positive in Iraq and saddle President Bush with everything negative. Well, what is the Obama Administration claiming to have done? President Obama claims credit for extricating American forces from nearly nine years of military involvement there. By the way, can I pause for a moment to say how absurd it is to talk about a hasty exit after nine years?!?

But returning to Feaver’s argument, he’d have a stronger point about taking responsibility for the bad along with the good if Obama was claiming credit having locked in a stable future for Iraq. Except that’s not the claim. Like President Bush before him, the president has tried to use the US military presence to the best stabilizing effect for Iraqis and express gratitude and pride in the efforts of the those who served that mission. But how did all of this come about, and by what notion of fairness and responsibility do we treat the original act of invasion as water under the bridge?

US-Iraqi talks regarding slower pull-out

As Feaver points out, there is also the issue of the administration’s negotiations to keep a residual force in Iraq past 2011:

Besides, it is Bush’s fault, the bitter-ender Obamaphiles say, because he saddled Obama with the 2008 framework agreement that set the 2012 troop exit deadline. Of course, to cling to this view requires ignoring that both sides, U.S. and Iraqi, viewed the 2008 agreement as an interim step, one that would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections to allow for a longer-term U.S. presence. More problematically, it requires ignoring the lengthy but ultimately failed negotiations by Obama-appointed representatives to accomplish just such an extension.

Surely he can see the problems this poses for the conservative side of the argument — even the glaring contradiction right within the quoted passage. I can count three ways in which this debate-within-a-debate only reinforces Obama’s rightful credit for the Iraq withdrawal.

First, if the 2008 status of forces agreement (SOFA) was merely a placeholder that masked an actual plan to remain, then that just heightens the contrast with President Obama’s getting American troops out. Second, the loud cries from critics highlight conservatives’ preference for keeping more forces in Iraq. (And oh by the way, all the sabre-rattling over Iran contributes to the image of Republicans’ big appetite for military conflict and overextension.)

More problematically, Feaver’s argument requires ignoring the issue over which the SOFA re-negotiations faltered: Baghdad’s refusal to grant US personnel immunity from prosecution. After all the conservatives’ dire warnings about Americans potentially being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, I can’t imagine this would’ve been something they could abide.

The divide in this debate is not over who’s concerned about the situation in Iraq, or who feels an American sense of responsibility. Most of us do. This is a debate about the need to set limits and make choices regarding the best investments and engagements of American power — and not imagine that those choices make themselves.


Related Stories:

Turning the Page in Iraq

Troops Are Home From Iraq, But the War is Far From Over

Iraqi Women Speak: US Troop Withdrawal A Double-Edged Sword


Photo credit: US Army


Richard Pietrasz
Richard Pietrasz6 years ago

Obama continued the Iraq war for almost three years so far, and with "contractors", drones, etc. it may go on for longer than the almost 21 years so far.

DianeO seems to think the death of millions (to kill one man) was a good thing.

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G6 years ago

We were there illegally without provocation and against all International Lawa..
Thank you " Village Idiot " Bush and "Dartvader" Dick head Cheney.

Nick R.
Nick R.6 years ago

President Obama complied with the arrangements that Bush, made when he lied us into that war. The only problem I have with pulling out is that we waited so long to do it. The Shiites and the other tribes in the area have been fighting for over 5000 years. Only the brutal repression by Saddam kept it under control. Now it will escalate and maybe resolve itself. It sure would never happen with our troops taking the brunt of the violence.

ROLF P6 years ago

He did not end the War he simply pulled out our troops the war over there is going forward just fine watch the news. It's actually going much better now that we are out of there.

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

@ Robert H..” because we tell them to stop.” You are trying to be serious, Right? It was the United States that pushed Saddam into a destructive war with Iran, supplied him with the poisonous chemicals he used on the Kurds during that war, and [Reagan] refused to cut off those supplies. Iraq’s wars have been three or four with Britain attempting to ‘manage’ Iraq for the oil and other interests, against Iran, to please the US, the Gulf War, started by the US and the unprovoked US/Iraq war, started by the US. Those Iraquis just can’t stop themselves from having wars no matter how much we beg them to stop, can they?

judith sanders
judith sanders6 years ago

What a stupid comment. Iraq is a modern nation responsible for its own destiny.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue6 years ago

Those drones are like a coupon discount on the price of a product that should never have been purchased at all.

George Boggs
George Boggs6 years ago

The President kept America's agreement to withdraw from Iraq. He did not start the war. He did not send all of those troops over there to die. But he did forfill the agreement. There is nothing he can do about how we got in this position, only about how we get out. The republicans are going to cry no matter how it goes. In case no one knows. The drones save American lives.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue6 years ago

Well, if one is looking for a party of clean hands , one will need to seek same in their dreams or writings of fantasy.

A simple review of the (Federal Elections Commission) and the mandatory campaign funding reports , makes it very clear that both parties are bought and paid for.

When we as a people champion on the RED or BLUE caped TV wrestlers , what we are really doing is championing the corporations that pay for the spectacle.

Watching my fellow Americans , I at times must simply shake my head in amazement.

One moment they will take to the streets in opposition to corporations and in the next moment they'll squabble over which color cape the slave master should wear.

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

Obama has done what the people wanted, he got us the hell out of Iraq the country that we illegally invaded. What happens now is up to the people of Iraq. Good job Mr. President. The only ones blaming him for anything are the ones who illegally invaded Iraq without any provcation to do so.