By Tim Montgomerie
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Iraq once dominated our politics. The great controversies of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, WMD and Basra were among the most notorious. In Friday’s Times (£) I attempted to summarise the second half of ‘the Iraq years’ as a period characterised by two big decisions. Decision one was George W Bush’s decision in 2007 to send in more troops. Decision two was Obama’s decision to bring the troops home in time for his re-election bid. After the so-called surge had cut troop numbers Bush reflected on what had happened:
“One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. So we reviewed our strategy and changed course. We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. We gave our troops a new mission: Work with the Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in its strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country. The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened. Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw tens of thousands of American forces flowing into their country. They saw our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists, and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return.”
Obama’s duty was to maintain that trajectory so that the hideous price paid in Iraq by American and British soldiers as well as, in much greater numbers, the Iraqi people themselves was not in vain. He failed in that task. The model should have been post-conflicts Germany, Japan and Korea where US troops stayed behind after the fighting to reinforce those nations’ political progress and guarantee regional stability. America should still have 20,000 troops in Iraq. That was the number recommended by America’s generals as the appropriate number to counter Iranian influence, protect Iraqi airspace and check terrorism. Iraq’s own military chief of staff agreed, warning that it might take until 2020 until the country was able to reliably undertake these tasks itself.
Sadly Obama did not make the effort to secure that continuing role. He did not speak directly to Iraq’s political leadership for many months and an agreement was never reached (more here). This amounts to a massive gift to Tehran and the extremist groups that General Petraeus did so much to push back.
The exit from Iraq can also be added to Obama’s whole foreign policy record. Remember the theory that his charisma was just what America needed? What’s it produced?
No US foothold in Iraq.
Iran closer than ever to acquiring nuclear weapons.
No international commitment to help fight the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan.
No grand agreement – eg on free trade – to reboot the world economy.
No progress on climate change.
Missile defence abandoned in central Europe but Russia more beligerent than ever.