Iraq is not yet lost, but the victory that the United States, our allies and our Iraqi friends achieved at such high cost is now at risk. Who is responsible? The blame lies squarely at the feet of President Obama. He inherited a stable Iraq in 2009 and promptly signaled his intention to scuttle, much as he is now doing in Afghanistan. Partisans of the president will claim that the United States had no choice, that we were forced to withdraw because the Iraqis didn’t want us, were making too many demands in the notional Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), etc. Military leaders, Iraqis and American officials outside the White House agree that’s claptrap. The president had no intention of leaving troops in Iraq, made that clear to his military commanders and Pentagon honchos and seized on the difficult negotiations over the SOFA to legitimize his cut and run.
As to whether Prime Minister Maliki should bear some of the blame, having reignited the sectarian divide inside Iraq, possibly. But who cares? Presumably the United States has an interest in the stability of Iraq; if instability is indeed a threat to American interests and allies, then badmouthing Maliki gets us nowhere. Maliki would have been easier to manage had the United States not bid him sayonara back in 2011.
Almost two years ago, I asked Maliki point blank why he wasn’t doing more to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After delivering some choice words about Assad, Maliki said that his biggest fear about Syria wasn’t Assad’s ouster, but the stability of Western Iraq and the prospect of al Qaeda’s return. I wish he’d done more—done anything—to help speed Assad’s departure. Perhaps then, the spillover of al Qaeda from Syria into Iraq might have been contained. Then again, if Obama doesn’t care about the broader stability of the Middle East, why should Maliki?