Once upon a time, you could turn on the evening news and feel pretty confident that the person reporting on a story was doing his or her best to present the facts as they were known at the time. That no longer seems to be the case for most of our media, as newsrooms large and small seem to have adopted the “facts be damned, controversy sells” attitude of Fox News.
Recently, a popular theme on the right has been that President Obama is to blame for the rise of Islamic militants in Iraq, because he didn’t leave American troops in that country. Last weekend, a reporter asked the President a question based on that talking point.
The president’s reply is clear and to the point: American troops were pulled out of Iraq because the Bush administration negotiated an agreement with the Iraqi government that required all American combat forces to leave the country by the end of December 2011.
In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system. And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops.
So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice.
That statement is not “spin” or an attempt to “pass the buck” on Obama’s part. It is the truth, and the reporter should have known it, had he done his homework. Time ran the following headline in October, 2011:
Iraq’s Government, Not Obama, Called Time On the U.S. Troop Presence
The article that follows says:
In one of his final acts in office, President Bush in December of 2008 had signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that set the clock ticking on ending the war he’d launched in March of 2003. The SOFA provided a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the United Nations Security Council mandate for the occupation mission expired at the end of 2008. But it required that all U.S. forces be gone from Iraq by January 1, 2012, unless the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate a new agreement that would extend their mandate.
As the president explains in his answer, he had no authority to keep troops in Iraq without the approval of the new, democratically elected government we had just helped into power. That government declined to give that approval, and that is why things are at the point they are now. But the lazy media, always willing to take their cues from the likes of Fox News, has to ignore the truth in order to sustain the controversy.
Here’s the video of the president’s remarks, courtesy of WH.gov, and EgbertoWillies.com: