Rewriting History: Conservatives Attack Obama For Withdrawing All Troops From Iraq

Iraqi Government Wanted U.S. Forces Out

Right-wing media personalities blamed President Obama for recent violence in Iraq, blaming the rise of violent militants in the country on Obama willfully refusing to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind some American forces and instead redeploying all U.S. troops. In reality, the Iraqi government refused to negotiate a viable SOFA with the U.S. despite Obama's efforts to maintain a military presence.

Obama Orders Airstrikes On Militants In Iraq

Strikes Authorized To Prevent “Genocide,” Protect Americans In The Region. On August 7, The New York Times reported on President Obama's speech announcing his authorization of limited airstrikes against the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS):

President Obama on Thursday announced he had authorized limited airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, scrambling to avert the fall of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and returning the United States to a significant battlefield role in Iraq for the first time since the last American soldier left the country at the end of 2011.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday night, Mr. Obama also said that American military aircraft had dropped food and water to tens of thousands of Iraqis trapped on a barren mountain range in northwestern Iraq, having fled the militants, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who threaten them with what Mr. Obama called “genocide.”

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help,” Mr. Obama said in a somber statement delivered from the State Dining Room. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

The president insisted that these military operations did not amount to a full-scale re-engagement in Iraq. But the relentless advance of the militants, whom he described as “barbaric,” has put them within a 30-minute drive of Erbil, raising an immediate danger for the American diplomats, military advisers and other citizens who are based there. [The New York Times, 8/7/14]

Conservatives Blame Obama, Claim Militants Rose Because He Chose To Withdraw All Troops From Iraq

National Review's Lowry: Obama “Abandoned The War In Iraq.” On the August 10 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, National Review editor Rich Lowry blamed President Obama for ISIS' uprising in Iraq and not leaving residual troops after the U.S. ended military action in the country. Lowry clamed “Obama never ended the war in Iraq as he said, he abandoned the war in Iraq.” [NBC, Meet The Press, 8/10/14]

Weekly Standard's McCormack: Obama “Didn't Want To Leave Troops In Iraq.” In an August 9 blog for the Weekly Standard, John McCormack argued that Obama wasn't successful at attaining a SOFA because he “wasn't seriously pushing for one”:

The truth is a bit complicated. The administration's public position was that a few thousand troops should be left in Iraq. But many foreign policy experts have argued that the status of forces agreement fell apart because the Obama administration wasn't seriously pushing for one.


When President Obama announced in October of 2011 that no U.S. troops would be left in Iraq, he said he was fulfilling a campaign promise. That's certainly at odds with how he now portrays the decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. [The Weekly Standard, 8/9/14]

National Review's Goldberg: “Obama Chose To Pull Troops Out Of Iraq As Quickly As Possible.” National Review editor-at-large Johah Goldberg accused Obama of presiding over the chaos in Iraq because of his decisions “directly or indirectly,” which have negatively impacted the region:

Let us stipulate -- at least for the sake of argument -- that the First Cause of Iraq's unraveling was the Iraq War. That doesn't change the fact that the second, third, fourth, fifth, and nth causes of the chaos are the result, directly or indirectly, of President Obama's decisions (or indecisions). Obama chose to pull troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. Obama chose to dismiss ISIS as the “jayvee squad” this year. Obama chose to issue a “red line” ultimatum, then chose to say “never mind.” The guy has been president for five years. And yet to listen to him and his defenders he's been utterly powerless to undo his predecessors' mistakes, real or alleged. It's like these people think the twice-elected president of the United States is still new to the job. [National Review Online, 8/9/14]

But The Iraqi Government Refused To Negotiate Viable Status Of Forces Agreement

Time: “Iraq's Government, Not Obama, Called Time On U.S. Troop Presence.” An October 2011 Time article explained that U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was “an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending” the existing Status of Forces Agreement:

But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki's ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration's plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based. [Time, 10/21/11]

AP: SOFA Negotiations Thwarted By Iraqi Government. In October 2011, the Associated Press reported that negotiations for a SOFA were derailed after the Iraqi government refused to grant American troops legal immunity:

But talks ran aground over Iraqi opposition to giving American troops legal immunity that would shield them from Iraqi prosecution. Legal protection for U.S. troops has always angered everyday Iraqis who saw it as simply a way for the Americans to run roughshod over the country. Many Iraqi lawmakers were hesitant to grant immunity for fear of a backlash from constituents.

“When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible,” al-Maliki told a news conference aturday. “The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.” [Associated Press, 10/22/2011 via The Huffington Post]

NY Times: “Iraqis Were Unwilling To Accept” Terms Of SOFA. An October 2011 New York Times article provided details of the stalled negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq for a Status of Forces Agreement (emphasis added):

This month, American officials pressed the Iraqi leadership to meet again at President Talabani's compound to discuss the issue. This time the Americans asked them to take a stand on the question of immunity for troops, hoping to remove what had always been the most difficult hurdle. But they misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public. Still burdened by the traumas of this and previous wars, and having watched the revolutions sweeping their region, the Iraqis were unwilling to accept anything that infringed on their sovereignty. [The New York Times,10/21/11]