08.12.2014 1

Is Obama lying about why we withdrew from Iraq?

obama-iraqBy Robert Romano

“In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system. And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances.”

That was President Barack Obama, outlining in an August 9 press conference what he says were his reasons for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq at the end of 2011.

The withdrawal is now being blamed for creating a vacuum that has allowed the terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS), to take over vast swaths of Iraqi territory and now threatens to topple the government in Baghdad.

Here, Obama is pointing to the 2008 status of forces agreement that contained a provision in Article 12 stating that “Iraq has the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over members of the U.S. forces and members of the civilian element regarding major and premeditated crimes, according to item 8, when these crimes are committed outside installations and areas agreed upon and off duty [emphasis added].”

So, to be clear, Obama was not talking about military combat operations being subject to Iraqi criminal prosecution. Not at all. Here, he was explicitly referring to off-duty personnel breaking Iraqi law while off-base.

This all seems a matter of historical record. This is either how it went down or it isn’t.

Was the prosecution of off duty military personnel “protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis… [and] hauled before an Iraqi judicial system” the real reason the status of forces agreement couldn’t be settled by Obama and Maliki?

Certainly, that was Obama’s cover story in 2011. But it raises an interesting question: Did they insist on the provision knowing the Iraqis would refuse, and the resulting impasse would help Obama keep his 2008 campaign pledge to withdraw, and in the meantime provide a plausible reason for the failed negotiations?

The status of forces agreement was in effect for much of 2008 all the way through 2011, so if this was a real concern, were there any incidences where the Iraqis were attempting to prosecute off-duty U.S. personnel who were “protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis”?

The answer is that despite Obama’s perceived risk that this would be the case, this did not happen once while the agreement was in place — for three-and-a-half years.

But even if Iraqi prosecutions of U.S. personnel had been some sort of ongoing problem, why did we agree to it in 2008 and then live with agreement for all that time?

This all looks more like a post-hoc rationalization by Obama to justify his campaign pledge to withdraw troops form Iraq, and to provide just the political cover he now seeks as the country has predictably descended into chaos.

Consider that these provisions in the Iraqi status of forces agreement are not at all uncommon for U.S. service personnel stationed all over the world, in say, South Korea, Japan, and Germany.

That is, off-duty, off-base servicemen and women are subject to local jurisdiction in allied countries when crimes are committed. Period.

For example, just in 2013, two U.S. servicemen were convicted and imprisoned in Japan for the rape of a Japanese woman. The sentences were 10 years and 9 years in prison, respectively. If the agreement Obama apparently wanted for Iraq had been in effect in Japan, the rapists might have escaped justice.

Yet, there was not so much a peep out of the Obama administration about withdrawing military forces from Japan or closing the naval bases including at Okinawa over the convictions.

In that case, the White House was not above prioritizing strategic considerations over local jurisdiction over the actions of off-duty, off-base U.S. personnel. Therefore, Obama’s stated reason for not renewing the status of forces agreement in Iraq is what is “bogus and wrong,” and frankly, false on its face.

It is simply remarkable that somehow Iraq was an exception to the general rule: Local jurisdiction over local criminal matters is the normal course of business in negotiating the stationing of U.S. forces with another sovereign government, in this case, one who was supposed to be a blood brother, an ally in the war against al Qaeda.

Of course the Iraqis wanted the same degree of sovereignty, autonomy, and jurisdiction over local matters as other host nations where U.S. forces are stationed. Wouldn’t that go without saying?

So, why did Obama need to wield this as an excuse? Perhaps, because the administration knew at the time of the withdrawal that if anything went awry — say, insurgents took over Iraqi cities and the country descended into chaos post-U.S. withdrawal — that it would need political cover.

Therefore, the chaos was anticipated and this was the ready-made excuse for why the status of forces agreement could not be renewed, which would lean on the American public’s general ignorance over how these arrangements typically go down. In the meantime, the policy of withdrawal was something Obama had settled on long before he ever became President during the 2008 campaign.

Whether you agree or disagree with Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq, everyone should be able to agree that he ought to take responsibility for that decision — and all of its incipient consequences. There’s no reason to lie about why we left. This had nothing to do with Iraqi jurisdiction over local criminal matters. Obama wanted out of Iraq.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

Copyright © 2008-2021 Americans for Limited Government