Panetta Lectures McCain On Iraq Withdrawal: ‘This Is About Negotiating With A Sovereign Country’

Today during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chastised the Obama administration for failing to get an agreement with the Iraqis to maintain a U.S. troop presence there past 2011. Of course, much of the criticism coming from Iraq war dead-enders like McCain about President Obama’s decision has ignored entirely that the Iraqis also played a role in this outcome.

“The truth is that this administration was committed to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and they made it happen,” McCain said, not hiding his displeasure. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta then had to remind McCain that Iraq is a democracy, it’s their country, and ultimately the decision wasn’t entirely the president’s and that the administration would not accept a deal in which U.S. troops staying past 2011 were not given legal immunity:

PANETTA: Senator McCain, that’s just simply not true. I guess you can believe that and I respect your beliefs…but that’s not how it happened. This is about negotiating with a sovereign country. An independent country, this was about their needs. This is not about us telling them what we’re going to do for them or what they’re going to have to do. … This is about their country making a decision as to what is necessary here. […]

This is a country where you could very well be engaging in combat operations. If you’re going to engage in those kind of operations, you’re going to engage in CT operations, you absolutely have to have immunities and those immunities have to be granted by a SOFA agreement. I was not about to have our troops go there in place without those immunities.

Panetta also had to remind Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who expressed hope that the Iraqis would grant U.S. troops immunity before the withdrawal deadline. “Again I would stress to you Senator Lieberman,” Panetta said, “It’s got to be a two way street.” Later in the hearing, committee chair Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) tried to clear up all the confusion:

LEVIN: Did Iraq ever request U.S. trainers or other troops remain in Iraq after December 31 and if so in what number did they request and were they willing to grant legal protection, immunity to our troops?

PANETTA: There was no such request. …

Watch the clips: