Friday, October 21, 2011

President Obama Commits To Carrying Out Bush Plan To Leave Iraq By End of Year

There's quite a bit of Internet angst among certain folks complaining that President Obama is somehow engaging in a change of course about the continued presence of US troops in Iraq when he announced today that but for a contingent of troops to guard the US embassy in Baghdad, all the troops will be returning to their primary bases by the end of the year.

President Obama isn't changing US policy. He's carrying it out.

This is a US policy enacted by President Bush and enacted pursuant to a Status of Forces Agreement. Pursuant to that agreement, Iraq and the US agree that all American forces would be withdrawn no later than December 31, 2011. That was an agreement entered into on November 17, 2008, and also called for US combat forces to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities no later than June 30, 2009. These are timetables put in place by President Bush, and President Obama is carrying them out (and incidentally belatedly keeps a campaign pledge from 2008.)

That isn't to say that the agreement couldn't be amended. The US and Iraqi government were trying to negotiate a plan to continue basing troops in Iraq, but the Iraqis didn't want to grant immunity to US troops operating there and the US wasn't going to keep troops in Iraq should they be subject to prosecution locally.

Now, does this adversely affect Iraq's security? Absolutely. It means that they have to stand up against an ongoing threat from neighboring Iran (some things never change) without a US countervailing presence. Are they nearly as capable as they should be (or were when the US was backing them up)? No, but by bringing the troops home, the Army can begin the process of reducing its costs, reduce manpower and assets deployed, replace used and worn out equipment, and most importantly, allow troops to return to their home bases to rejoin their families. On the whole, this benefits the US and reduces a major source of government expenditures for the long term.

I would have liked to see an ongoing military deployment of troops there - invited to remain by the Iraqi government precisely as a means to stabilize the region and to thwart potential moves by Iran, but that wont be the case - at least for now. We're still in places like Bahrain, and their sociopolitical situation is a mess - so shifting certain assets to Iraq could make sense from that perspective as well.

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