The approaching 2016 presidential election appears to be spurring former members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet to go public with their opposition to his Middle Eastern policies that allowed terrorist organizations to gain control of large sections of Iraq and Syria.
Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s emergence as the latest former Obama cabinet member to disclose that he recommended arming moderate Syrian rebels only to be rebuffed by the president shows the dissent for the president’s policies extends well beyond Republicans. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a key Democrat considering a presidential run in 2016, also advocated arming moderate Syrian rebels prior to her resignation as an Obama cabinet member.
Those admissions by two prominent Democrats show that President Obama orchestrated a Middle Eastern Policy that proved to be instrumental in creating a wide territory in Iraq and Syria where terrorists could train and build an arsenal of weaponry to use against their enemies. The same terrorists recently began brazenly beheading western civilians who they captured.
In the wake of such barbaric terrorist acts, President Obama took action on Sept. 22 when he began a bombing campaign along with a coalition that included Arab states to weaken terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria. The bombings not only focused on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but also targeted the Khorasan Group, a terrorist organization based in Iraq that allegedly was planning imminent attacks against westerners.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona who lost his bid for the presidency as the Republican nominee in 2008, said, “As dangerous as ISIS is now, its rise was neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Time after time, President Obama had the opportunity to act when U.S. engagement could have made a decisive difference, and in pulling back from America’s traditional leadership role, he left a vacuum for other, more dangerous actors to fill. As a result, the situation in Iraq and Syria has descended into a crisis that poses a direct threat to the United States. Worse yet, our options for countering this threat are fewer and far worse than they were just a few years ago.”
Iraq’s parliament complicated the situation by not offering legal protection to U.S. military personnel to encourage them to continue serving there, said Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute.
When Iraq became a newly sovereign nation in June 2004 roughly 15 months after the United States led a coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from power, the nation had 145,000 foreign forces – mostly Americans – on its soil. The new ruling government in Iraq could have asked those troops to leave at any time.
But a divided Iraq parliament failed to enact legal safeguards to allow U.S. military troops to continue to serve in the country beyond a previously agreed-upon withdrawal date. Without such legal safeguards, U.S. military personnel who stayed would have been exposed to the vagaries of the Iraqi criminal justice system, Preble said.
In contrast, U.S. troops who serve in a foreign land with the support of that country’s government commonly receive such legal protections from the host nation, Preble added.
Sen. McCain said President Obama missed a chance to keep a stabilizing U.S. military presence in Iraq during May 2011 when leaders of Iraq’s main political blocs, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan, and Parliamentary Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi, voiced openness to the idea. At that time, each of them acknowledged that it was in Iraq’s best interest for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in a non-combat mission of training and assisting Iraqi security forces beyond 2011, he added.
In a meeting, Sen. McCain said Prime Minister Maliki asked how many troops the United States wanted to maintain and what tasks they would perform. U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said they couldn’t answer because the White House had not made a decision, Sen. McCain said.
President Obama delayed a decision and later chose to pull U.S. forces out of the country.
During an October 2012 presidential debate when Republican challenger Mitt Romney said there should have been a “status of forces” agreement with the Iraqis to allow a U.S. presence, President Obama responded, “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down.”
A status of forces agreement defines the terms by which U.S. troops may operate in a foreign country.
But the central government in Iraq is not respected and trusted, Preble said.
Sunni Muslims had been given privileges under Saddam Hussein that they lost under Maliki’s government, Preble added.
“Many people joining or cooperating with ISIS had been supporters of Saddam Hussein,” said Preble, who added that there should be “no illusion” that the U.S.-led bombing will change the politics on the ground.
“I don’t see how leaving troops would have changed Maliki’s behavior,” Preble said.
Maliki’s regime took control in 2006 until he was replaced as prime minister on September 8, 2014. He now is one of Iraq’s three vice presidents under the regime of new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Preble estimated that $1 trillion has been spent by the U.S. government on the war in Iraq but he expects the ultimate cost to grow by an additional $2-3 trillion to care for disabled veterans and the dependents of military members who were killed in action.
With the belated realization of the need to combat the threat posed by ISIS and the Khorasan Group, the cost incurred by the U.S. government appears destined to grow.
Paul Dykewicz is the editorial director of Eagle Financial Publications, a columnist for Townhall and Townhall Finance, and the author of a new book, “Holy Smokes! Golden Guidance from Notre Dame’s Championship Chaplain.”