I wrote towards the end of last week, “never underestimate results.” I should have added the psychological advantage a sitting President has with all the glitz and glamor that goes with that while he’s traveling the country. President Obama will have a nearly endless supply of money when he starts campaigning and will enjoy the benefits of a less-than-critical media. You can expect the theme for Obama’s reelection being one that shows his leadership, tough decision making, and proven results in bringing our enemies to justice. The other debacles such as Gitmo, his world apology tours, handing over Central Europe to a Putin-controlled Russia, pushing Israeli relations to extremes, and his unwillingness to confront Iran will go unmentioned.
Most important during his campaign will be Obama making good on his 2008 campaign promise to bring US troops home from Iraq. That will sit well with many voters, though it’s doubtful 5the electorate will decide this election on foreign policy. Nevertheless, the decision to bring US troops out of Iraq is already being played up as a triumph and mission accomplished. It will be used as another foreign policy accomplishment by Obama and one less opening for the Republican nominee to use against him. Should the Republican candidates hope to challenge this theme, they need to convince a war-weary public that it was a short-sighted and politically expedient move that does not leave Iraq, or US interests for that matter, secure.
The real question will be whether the American people care how or why we left, so long as our troops come home. The answer is probably not. The questions should be raised, however, did the US succeed in Iraq and did we leave Iraq as a secure ally in the Middle East? The question over Iran’s machinations in Iraq is an ominous one. What if we have to go back in a few years to quell a worse situation than in 2003?
To make the case, the GOP must start with the breakdown in negotiations between Obama and the Iraqi government first.
According to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:
But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts.
“What the president preferred was for the best relationship for the United States and Iraq going forward. That’s exactly what we have now,” McDonough said, barely acknowledging the administration’s intensive negotiations.
“We talked about immunities, there’s no question about that…. But the bottom line is that the decision you heard the president talk about today is reflective of his view and the prime minister’s view of the kind of relationship we want to have going forward. That relationship is a normal relationship,” he said.
Of course, the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is anything but normal. Following nine years of war, the death of over 4,000 Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the disbursement of at least hundreds of billions of dollars of American taxpayer’ money, the United States now stands to have significantly less influence in Iraq than if the administration had been able to come to terms with Iraq over a troop extension, according to experts and officials.
“Iraq is not a normal country, the security environment is not normal, the embassy is not a normal embassy,” said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, who traveled to Iraq this summer and has been sounding the alarm about what she saw as the mishandling of the negotiations ever since.