Bush, not Obama, decided Iraq withdrawal

As Republican candidates for President continue to raise the question of withdrawal from Iraq, “blaming” the supposed mistake on Barack Obama, I am reprinting from a previous post (published on May 2, 2014) the true story:

The notion that it was President Obama who decided to withdraw troops from Iraq is simply wrong.  Here is a first-person account from Bob Loftis, who led the failed negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA):

[The decision to withdraw US troops] happened in mid-2008 [during the Bush Administration]. My team and I were instructed to work on an agreement that would allow a long term US military presence. At no time did the issue of withdrawal arise, even when the term “SOFA” became politically toxic in Baghdad. SOFA talks were suspended in May 2008, with the focus placed on negotiating the Strategic Framework Agreement (which would have some vague references to “pre-existing arrangements” (i.e. certain parts of CPA17). I then heard in September 2008 that…there were new SOFA talks which were about withdrawal. The “Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq” was signed on 17 November 2008 by Ryan Crocker: Article 24 (1) states “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

People will tell you that President Bush thought the agreement would be revised in the succeeding administration to allow the Americans to stay in some limited number.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was Bush, not Obama, who decided on US withdrawal.

Once in office, Obama did try to negotiate permission for the Americans to stay.  Prime Minister Maliki didn’t want to give up jurisdiction over crimes committed by US troops.  Hard for me to fault the President for not yielding on that point, especially in light of the arbitrary arrests and detentions Maliki has indulged in since.  Nor do I think US troops in the mess that is today’s Iraq would be either safe or useful.

Note added in 2015:

The circumstances that today are giving President Obama reason to send more troops back to Iraq are dramatically different from any that could have been anticipated in 2008 or 2009. But at least now they are going back to an Iraq whose government welcomes them. Withdrawal was not a mistake. It was a reaction to the political realities both in Washington and Baghdad. Second guessing is a fool’s game, especially when conducted by Donald Trump and Rudi Giuliani.

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