The full withdrawal from Iraq became a problem for US interests soon after the last troops left.
One of the stranger aspects of US President- elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired gen. Lloyd Austin to be his secretary of defense comes in his explanation of why he made the choice. In an essay in The Atlantic, Biden says he chose Austin because of how he oversaw the withdrawal of US forces in 2011 from Iraq.“Pulling that off took more than just the skill and strategy of a seasoned soldier,” Biden wrote. “It required Austin to practice diplomacy, building relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and with our partners in the region.”
Biden is certainly in a position to know this. He was US president Barack Obama’s point man on Iraq when he served as vice president. What’s puzzling is why Biden would select Austin because of – not in spite of – his role in the US retreat from Iraq. The 2011 decision was a strategic blunder that Biden and Obama reversed in part in 2014, after an Islamic State army had taken Iraq’s second largest city and was threatening Baghdad.A big reason why Obama agreed to a full withdrawal of forces from the country was because Austin, Biden and US ambassador James Jeffrey failed to get the Iraqi parliament to approve a provision that stipulated US forces remaining in Iraq would not be tried in Iraqi courts. This may seem like a technical detail, but almost all status of- forces agreements with foreign countries include such provisions.
Jeffrey explained in a policy paper released after he left his post in Baghdad that Iraq’s prime minister and president informed him the country’s parliament would support a small US presence in the country, but would not support the exemption from Iraqi law. After that, the White House announced the full withdrawal.Austin does not deserve all of the blame for this failure. The Obama administration was slow to give a firm number of troops it wanted in Iraq throughout 2011. When the administration finally settled on 5,000, Iraqi leaders who were privately supportive of a continued US troop presence worried that Obama’s commitment was not serious. Also, the administration failed to cajole prime minister Nouri al- Maliki to share power with the more pro- American party that had won the most votes in Iraq’s 2010 election.