One of the biggest advantages Obama had over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, aside from sending ACORN thugs throughout the country to bully and intimidate elderly African American women from voting for Clinton, was his ability to sell himself as consistently opposed to the Iraq war. Even before the U.S. Senate voted to authorize the conflict in 2002, then state senator Obama expressed his disapproval that an invasion of Iraq would “require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” This allowed Obama to cast himself in 2008 as the anti-war alternative to pro-war Washington insider Hillary.
Like most things Obama, his condemnation of the Iraq war was not nearly as consistent as many believe. He may have started off a skeptic, but when things started looking up for the Bush administration in 2003 with the toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad, Obama changed his tune in a hurry. Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope “I began to suspect that I might have been wrong” and by 2004 he was telling the Chicago Tribune “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage”. In 2006 Obama threw his political weight firmly behind the war effort when he said “we have a role to play in stabilizing the country as Iraqis are getting their act together.”
When the tides of war began to turn in 2007 with the rise in sectarian violence, Obama flipped sides once again to position himself as a strident anti-war candidate. While Bush was preparing the surge that would ultimately prove successful, Obama was calling for immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq insisting “the President’s strategy will not work.” He told MSNBC in January 2007 “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”
Obama’s belief the war was lost didn’t last long when one year later it became clear, much to the chagrin of liberals everywhere, that the Bush surge strategy was indeed creating conditions where power could ultimately be transferred to a functional Iraqi government. Now a contender for the presidency, Obama could hardly admit to having misread the situation so poorly, so he changed his tune and insisted he never doubted for a second the surge would work:
I said when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.
Obama’s support or condemnation of the Iraq war at any given time had little to do with morality and everything to do with political expediency.
Once elected President the weak kneed Obama was given the job ending the Iraq war, which of course he couldn’t accomplish without bungling the effort. After a cost of nearly 4,500 American lives and $1 trillion to bring freedom to Iraq, the Pentagon sought to maintain a number of military bases to provide support to the still fragile country. Due to an impasse in negotiations with the Iraqi government, which refused to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution, the military was forced to completely withdrawal in 2011 without keeping the nearly 20,000 troops in place they insisted was necessary to maintain Iraqi security.
Sen. Lindsey Graham accused the administration of gross incompetence:
Iraqis have no air force. They have no intelligence-gathering capability. They need counter-terrorism assistance. There are missions only we can do. The [U.S.] military commander said we needed 15,000 to 18,000 [troops in Iraq]. We have none [after this year]. It was the Obama administration’s job to end this well. They failed.
Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, criticized the Obama administration for playing politics with Iraqi security:
From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns. Even the New York Times admitted the breakdown in negotiations “represented the triumph of politics over the reality of Iraq’s fragile security’s requiring some troops to stay, a fact everyone had assumed would prevail.”
While the Bush administration spent a year negotiating the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, the Obama administration didn’t begin withdrawal talks until only a few months before the military was scheduled to leave. Because of pressure from State Department and Pentagon lawyers, the Obama administration also insisted that any immunity agreement had to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament, an unnecessary and ultimately fruitless demand as the political will in Iraq for such a public accommodation didn’t exist. Obama never even bothered to get personally involved in the negotiations. While President Bush would often speak to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a weekly basis, “Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations.”
From the beginning of negotiations the Obama administration proposed to only keep 5,000 troops in Iraq, much less than the military’s request for 20,000. According to the Wall Street Journal this sent the message to the Iraqi government that “the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force.”
Even in the face of such a colossal failure, that still didn’t stop Obama from taking credit for ending the Iraq war. On October 21, 2011 Obama announced that “after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” Obama never mentioned President Bush’s role in freeing the Iraqi people from a blood thirsty dictator, but he did have a lot of great things to say about himself:
After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011.
As Commander-in-Chief, ensuring the success of this strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities.
When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars, and by the end of this year that number will be cut in half.
The irony of Obama taking credit for ending a war that would’ve ended years earlier in complete chaos had it been up to him wasn’t lost on the GOP. John McCain wasn’t impressed when he said in late 2011 “for three years, the president has been harvesting the successes of the very strategy that he consistently dismissed as a failure … I believe that history will judge this president’s leadership with scorn and disdain, with the scorn and disdain that it deserves.”