In an exclusive interview with the Weekly Standard, ironically headlined “Cain Rips Obama’s ‘Dumb’ Foreign Policy,” the GOP presidential hopeful blamed President Obama for an Iraq policy resulting directly from decision made by by the George W. Bush administration. Cain first complained that Obama was telegraphing U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, then said he was “doing the same thing in Iraq“:
We’ve got 43,000 people still left over there. The Iraqis are making good progress with the help of those 43,000. So what does he do? He goes off and says we’re going to by the end of the year pull out 40,000 troops. I’m sorry if this is not politically correct, but that is a dumb thing to do.
Cain’s analysis here leaves out two crucial factors: that the deal to withdraw American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 was made by the Bush administration in 2008, and that any change in that agreement would need to be acceded to by the government of Iraq.
The 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) (PDF) signed by the Bush administration and approved by Iraqi Prime Minsiter Nouri al-Maliki’s government says explicitly:
All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
When the framework was signed, in fact, many critics wondered if Bush, in his last year in office, was tying the hands of a future administration to decide the course of the Iraq war on its own. But for all the American objections, the 2008 Bush-Maliki agreement did have something going for it that Cain also seems to ignore: that the Iraqi parliament agreed to it.
The sticking point in the decision to keep American troops in Iraq beyond 2012 or not was, again, something that a sovereign Iraq had a say in. Indeed, the New York Times reported this morning (as early hints had indicated) that the Obama administration’s decision to abandon plans to keep thousands of troops in Iraq was a result of the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant those troops immunity from Iraqi law — a operational condition the Pentagon said was unacceptable.
With the common GOP refrain that Obama needs to listen to his generals — Cain told the Standard he “would have asked the commanders on the ground” about Afghanistan — one wonders why, in the case of Iraq, Obama’s critics don’t recognize that he listened to the Pentagon about the necessity of immunity. Instead, they’re pinning Obama’s complete acquiescence to the Pentagon’s views, and restraints imposed by Bush’s SOFA and al-Maliki’s government, on the White House.