As al-Qaedastan takes shape, carved from parts of two countries and with ambitions far greater than the parts of Iraq and Syria it already owns, many Americans are wondering how President Obama and his pair of foreign policy gurus Hillary Clinton and John Kerry could have allowed this to happen.
How could an al Qaeda so devastated by drone attacks and the death of its titular head be thriving, especially in western Iraq, where the "Anbar Awakening" had combined with George W. Bush's famed "surge" to stabilize the region and allow for traditional tribal rulers to return to influence and re-establish order?
The answer of course is that America cut and ran. It refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would have provided for a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops - an agreement along the lines of one that George W. Bush had negotiated through 2011. Instead of negotiating, Obama and Clinton simply withdrew, leaving a vacuum into which the transnational terrorists that fly the al Qaeda black flag flooded.
Both Obama and Clinton found ways to tell everyone this past week that the lack of a SOFA was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's fault. The president used a press conference and Clinton a CNN "townhall" to lay down their markers as to why there was no SOFA and thus no residual force of American troops to provide the glue the Iraqi army so obviously lacked this past week.
"We didn't get that done," Clinton told the country, and went on to blame Maliki. The president followed suit later in the week, each of them eager to lay out a defense against the charge of deadly malpractice if the forces of al Qaeda use these new conquests as a staging ground for attacks on America.
The Washington Post's Scott Wilson noticed the president's about-face, writing that throughout the campaign of 2012 the president trumpeted "the fact he had withdrawn all U.S. forces from the country was a problem solved and [that this was ] a political chip to be cashed in come November."
Wilson was one of the few to recall that in the presidential debates of two years ago GOP nominee Mitt Romney had blasted the president for failing to obtain a SOFA:
"With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement," Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. "That’s not true," Obama interjected. "Oh, you didn't want a status of forces agreement?" Romney asked as an argument ensued. "No," Obama said. "What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East."
Thank you, Mr. Wilson. Case closed.
Experts familiar with the failed SOFA negotiations know and have said on the record it was ours for the having, but Obama-Clinton wouldn't take it. They didn't want it. They wanted out and that is what they got.
They also got al-Qaedastan. They set up its set-up.
"Let me be clear," the president is fond of saying, and on this subject clarity is essential.
Obama and Clinton inherited a peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq from Bush. They tossed aside that legacy for political reasons. As the whirlwind is reaped there, and perhaps here as well, that fact should be known and repeated in every story.
The return of al Qaeda to Iraq could have been prevented. Obama and Clinton chose not to do so.Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt.