- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The White House announced the pullout from Iraq by the end of the year on a note of triumph. Obama adviser James Kvaal claimed that was “an example of what happens when a leader sets a plan and sees it through.” West Wing machismo was on full display, trumpeting, “President Obama has ended the war in Iraq.” Mr. Obama said the withdrawal was taking place “as promised,” but the pullout timeline evolved as did the president’s responsibility for the aftermath.

During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama proposed a withdrawal timeline with all troops out by the summer of 2010. “As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in,” he wrote in the New York Times. “We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 - two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began.” That promised timeline went by the wayside, and the plan Mr. Obama wound up executing was not his own but George W. Bush’s. The end-of-2011 withdrawal deadline was established in the Status of Forces Agreement agreed to by America and Iraq in November 2008, before Mr. Obama took office.

The Obama administration tried to extend the U.S. commitment beyond the deadline. The White House pressed Baghdad to allow about 6,000 American troops to stay in the country for training, intelligence and air-support missions, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed back against U.S. negotiators and demanded that the original timeline be honored. Mr. Obama got none of the things he was negotiating for. It wasn’t a foreign-policy triumph but a comprehensive diplomatic failure. “It is a strange way to declare victory,” a Defense Department official told The Washington Times, “after negotiating for months and getting nothing.”

Retired Army Gen. John M. Keane warned that the pullout plan is “an absolute disaster” that chiefly benefits Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward.” Iran, however, cannot be blamed for seeking to fill the vacuum left by failed U.S. diplomacy. In any case, it is the Iraqis who lack commitment. “It all seems ignoble,” an Iraq combat veteran told The Times. “Really, we just leave? No advisory role, no friendship? It’s like the Iraqis said, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,’ and we’re letting them do that.” Many members of the military are concerned that this rush for the exit will endanger the progress they sacrificed so much to achieve.

Mr. Obama’s pledge that the troops would be “home for the holidays” was an irresponsible throwaway line in his triumphalist speech. It may sound good coming off a teleprompter, but for the White House to keep this promise, it would mean highly trained troops newly stationed in Iraq cannot be shifted to Afghanistan. Nor can U.S. forces stay on standby in Kuwait to see what develops after the pullout. Mr. Obama promised to be careful getting out of Iraq, but American troops are being yanked out before their job is done.

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