12/13/2011 11:25 am ET

John McCain Criticizes Iraqi Leaders For Letting Domestic Politics Trump Security

WASHINGTON -- The high-stakes debates over the Iraq war no longer play the politically determining role they did during the 2006 congressional elections and 2008 presidential primaries. But with the war coming to a symbolic end this December, divides among lawmakers clearly remain.

Democrats have largely cheered the announcement that, after nine years of fighting and many billions of dollars spent, the war will end this month. But they have reservations about the size of the unit remaining in Iraq for embassy protection and armed forces training. Republicans have welcomed the return of armed forces. But they have also stressed that credit belongs to the previous administration for negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement that allowed it to happen.

Then there have been those who have criticized the drawdown. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) warned, during a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Tuesday, that a precipitous reduction of U.S. forces could result in a jump in hostilities. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who bet his reputation on the surge in forces in 2006, went even further Monday, arguing that the policy was being pursued dangerously and was driven by domestic political considerations, not just in the United States but in Iraq as well.

The meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki today cannot obscure the fact that both men have failed in their responsibilities with regard to our shared security interests. The sacrifices of both our peoples in a long and costly war, the continued needs of Iraq’s Security Forces, and the enduring U.S. interest in a stable and democratic Iraq all demanded a continued presence of U.S. troops beyond this year. But domestic political considerations in each country have been allowed to trump our common security interests. All of the progress that both Iraqis and Americans have made, at such painful and substantial cost, has now been put at greater risk. I hope I am wrong, but I fear I am not. It did not have to be this way, and the fact that it is has everything to do with a failure of vision, commitment, and leadership both in Washington and Baghdad.

(Emphasis ours.)

Iraqi politicians may indeed have let domestic political concerns trump security interests in arguing for U.S. troops to respect the Status of Forces Agreement. Indeed, officials in the Iraqi army have warned that they won't be able to secure the country until 2020 without American help. But since the invasion was launched under the pledge to bring a democratic government to Iraq, it's tough to criticize the country's government for subsequently responding to domestic pressures.

Asked to elaborate on the senator's statement, a McCain aide emailed the following response:

The statement was not intended as a comment on Iraq’s sovereignty or democracy, both of which Sen. McCain obviously supports. It was simply to say that leaders need to lead -- they need to shape public opinion in their countries, not just follow it, especially when it concerns a common national security interest that senior U.S. and Iraqi military commanders said was critical to both countries.