By Peter JuulSoon after President Obama last year fulfilled his pledge to withdraw all American troops from Iraq, conservatives eagerly pounced with baseless declarations the president had somehow “lost” Iraq to Iran and increased “the risks of failure.” Neoconservative analysts Fred and Kim Kagan proclaimed that the withdrawal amounted to “defeat.”
Since the U.S. withdrawal in December, nearly every act of violence or political crisis has been interpreted as evidence that Obama should not have ended the war. Brookings Institute analyst Ken Pollack provided the basic narrative: the withdrawal has caused American influence in Iraq to decline “precipitously;” removed a stick with which to threaten Iraqi “bad guys” (with some commentators lamenting the lack of a stick to shake at Iran and Syria as well); and the military influence U.S. troops provided has not been replaced by political or economic influence. Or as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) put it, Iraq is “unraveling because we didn’t keep a residual force there.”
Last week, Antony Blinken, a deputy assistant to the president and National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, refuted these allegations of defeat and lost influence in Iraq at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress.
Blinken noted that violence in Iraq remains at record lows despite widely reported terrorist attacks, shootings and other acts of violence. Fewer than 100 weekly security incidents occur today as compared with 1,600 at the height of the violence in 2007 and 2008.
Blinken recalled that the events of a 2007 political crisis in Iraq resemble one that began just after U.S. troops left Iraq in December, noting that in 2007, the U.S. had more than 100,000 troops on the ground there:
“In the end, the main difference between the two episodes was that in 2007/2008, the boycott lasted eight months — at a time when the United States had more than 150,000 troops on the ground. In 2012, we had no troops on the ground, and the boycott ended after less than two months.”
What’s more, Blinken argued, accusations that the United States has lost diplomatic influence in Iraq are baseless. The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, James Jeffrey, has met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nine times this year and movements from U.S. diplomatic posts have increased by a third over the last quarter of 2011.