By Marc Thiessen
December 6, 2011, 2:35 pm
Over at the National Interest, Walter Russell Mead writes on Vice President Biden’s just-completed visit to Iraq, where he presided at a ceremony handing Camp Victory back to Iraqis. In a post titled “Mission Sort of Accomplished in Iraq” Mead reflects on the fact that a “new and at least somewhat democratic country has emerged out of the ashes of despotism and the chaos of civil war”—an achievement, he notes, that Biden himself believed would never come. He recalls “all the panicky declarations by leading politicians and prominent ex-officials that the war was lost, utterly lost, and we had no choice but to make an inglorious run for the exits?” and suggests that President Obama and Vice President Biden owe President Bush a word of thanks for the surge as the troops come home.
It is a good suggestion. But rather than a word of thanks, I think President Bush would probably prefer that Obama and Biden not squander the victory he handed them in Iraq. While the surge did save Iraq from being utterly lost, all that sacrifice will be for naught if Iraq ends up an Iranian client state—which is where the country is likely headed with the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in a few weeks’ time. Mead notes that he “would have preferred a new Status of Forces agreement that would have kept a larger U.S. presence in Iraq for a longer time, but this is a decision that the sovereign government of Iraq has the right to make for itself. The United States is not an imperial power in the old style; when our allies ask us to leave, we go.”
Yes, except the reason the Iraqis asked us to go is because they saw we were already headed for the exits. The Obama administration dramatically reduced the number of troops it was planning to keep in country—from the 14-18,000 the U.S. military had requested to just the 3-4,000 the White House approved. What incentive did Iraqi leaders have to take the political risk of pushing a SOF agreement—with its controversial immunity provisions—though parliament when it is clear that the Obama administration was heading for the exits? If the United States is leaving and Iran is staying, it makes no sense to get in bed with America.
Mead quotes an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which Biden declares “The real way people gain influence other than through force is having an influence on the institutions, the formation of the institutions and the function of the institutions.” Imagine how that logic would have worked if we had withdrawn all of our forces from the Korean Peninsula shortly after hostilities died. Without a robust American military presence to deter them, the North would have infiltrated and devoured the South from within. The only way America can have “an influence on institutions” in Iraq is to prevent Iran from infiltrating and co-opting those institutions. If Iran moves in as America moves out, the mission in Iraq will not be “sort of” accomplished—it will be lost.
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