In an interview with Christine Amanpour on ABC this morning, John McCain claimed that the Obama Administration didn’t really try to convince Iraq to keep a wresidual force (3,000 – 20,000) of American troops in Iraq past the legal deadline for withdrawal agreed to by the Bush Administration, December 31, 2011. Upon questioning how he could make such a claim, McCain said “I was there.” McCain then explained that over six months before, when he spoke to different representatives of the Iraqi government, they seemed agreeable to discussing amending the SOFA and retaining some American troops.
Let’s look at the facts:
It has been broadly reported that some in the Iraqi government wanted to keep US troops past the deadline for withdrawal. Others did not.
It has been broadly reported that the Administration entered talks on the subject months ag, with Maliki and the US Administration trying to work out some type of accommodation.
It has been broadly reported that the Iraqi government would not give American troops immunity past December 31, 2011, because it would violate their nation’s sovereignty and that the US could not accept leaving troops beyond the agreed-upon withdrawal date without this immunity
It has been widely reported that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq to ‘liberate it’ with the goal of leaving it a sovereign, independent nation and that Mr. McCain approved of and supported that invasion from the beginning.
The Iraqi government has spoken as a sovereign, independent nation. Yet, instead of celebrating that fact, Mr. McCain believes the Obama Administration should impose US paternalism and dictate the number of troops and conditions of operations to the Iraqis.
Mr. McCain is not a very smart politician. He knows that the US Embassy will have hundreds of contracted former soldiers defending it and its consulates in Iraq. He knows the State Department will hire independent contractors to fill in for American soldiers to train the Iraqi military. He knows the American people have no more stomach for the cost in lives and money of a continued war in Iraq.
A smart politician would have tried to take credit for the Bush strategy and insisted it worked. Instead McCain’s attacks on Obama for implementing the Bush SOFA and fulfilling a campaign pledge to bring the troops home seems shallow and outdated.
McCain ignores the internal politics in Iraq itself. He ignores the nationalist sentiment of Iraqis that has grown stronger the longer US troops have remained on the ground. Most Iraqis consider the US presence in Iraq an occupation and believe that sectarian divisions will moderate when the occupation ends. McCain ignores the Sadr movement, which vowed to challenge any remaining US troops militarily, that hold a sizable bloc of votes in the Iraqi Parliament.
By denouncing Obama for the Iraqi withdrawal, McCain displays his tin ear to the war fatigue of the American public and demands that the government focus on domestic concerns, not foreign policy adventures.
McCain is a figure of the past. He no longer represents the base of the Republican Party. But the American media is lazy and intellectually unable to keep up with foreign policy developments. It’s easier to go with the false perceptions of the same old same old .