On Friday, October 21, 2011, President Obama announced that the last American troops would leave Iraq before the end of the year. This is a profound and proud moment for the American armed forces that were sent into an unnecessary war and poorly planned occupation. Yet they fought through deficiencies of equipment and strategy until Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus brought a winning combination of talents to bear. The war could never be won by military means alone but the one million brave soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who served there, often on multiple tours, did everything asked of them and more.
This should be a time of celebration and reflection, of healing wounds and drawing lessons. Instead, the Republican presidential field, almost to a person, decided to play politics. They should have followed the lead of House Speaker John Boehner. Instead, they parroted the ignorance and arrogance of Mitt Romney. Here is Romneys press release, issued before the President's statement:
"President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq."
Let's take it point by point.
· Governor Romney appears unaware that an "orderly transition" has been conducted by President Obama for two years, reducing U.S. forces by more than 100,000 to the current 40-50,000 level.
· He also appears oblivious to the fact that the "Strategic Framework agreement that set the deadline of the end of 2011 for withdrawing all U.S. forces was negotiated and signed by President George W. Bush.
· The major victory won by American and allied blood and treasure was a free and independent Iraq. That independent nation could not get political consensus for the needed conditions for U.S. troops to remain. Would Mr. Romney have stationed them in Iraq without the consent of the Iraqis?
· What terms and conditions would Mr. Romney have negotiated. Denying U.S. troops immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts? The American military leadership would never agree. Would he allow them to face trial under Sharia law? It takes two sides to reach an agreement and conditions are not there yet, but the door is still open. Perhaps the Iraqi government needed all troops out and the occupation indisputably over before they could exercise their sovereign power to allow them back in.
What is evident is that Mr. Romney is the one making "naked political calculations". He has no foreign policy or national security experience, nor do most of his Republican colleagues seeking to be commander in chief. At least Governor Perry served in the Air Force as a C-130 transport pilot. Neither Governor Romney nor his five sons have military service. Jon Huntsman has serious international diplomatic experience, Romney and the others, not so much.
To be fair to Mr. Romney and his colleagues, they have given little thought to national security policy in general or Iraq in particular as their websites demonstrate. Their next campaign debate in November is scheduled to be on that topic. If form holds, Mr. Romney and his rivals will criticize President Obama as "weak", a position bin Laden and al Awlaki might find unconvincing. But they will not set out any comprehensive vision and will try to change the subject to the economy and jobs.
The electorate can compare the national security performance of President Obama with the lack of experience of Mr. Romney and the other Republican candidates. And it is a fair bet that new international challenges will arrive on the scene between now and November 2012 to highlight the differences. The conventional wisdom that the election will be about the economy is likely correct. But don't bet all your money on it.