Neocons’ Iraq Criticism Rings Hollow

Town_Crier F. Gregory Gause III in The National Interest:

While Washington gets ready to default, another deadline looms on the horizon: December 31, 2011, when all American forces are due to be out of Iraq. The dysfunction of Iraqi politics has made it impossible for Baghdad to do what most people think is the rational thing—to request that some American forces remain to assist the Iraqi government in strengthening both its internal and external security capabilities. The Obama administration has signaled repeatedly that it is willing to do so, but that has not stopped neoconservative critics and former Bush administration officials from blaming Obama for Iraq’s failure to get its act together. The irony, of course, is that the democracy they were so proud to give Iraq (at such great cost to both Americans and Iraqis) is the reason that their preferred policy of continued American military presence in the country is not working out.

The neocon criticism of the Obama administration for not doing enough to bring the Iraqis to their senses is shot through with internal contradictions. Frederick and Kimberly Kagan wrote in the Weekly Standard in April that “[t]he ball is not in Maliki’s court. It is in Obama’s court,” contending that a lack of serious American commitment to Iraq was forcing Maliki into Iran’s arms. They called on the president to “stand by Iraq’s leaders as long as those leaders stand by the democratic processes now tenuously in place.”

But it is those very democratic processes that are blocking Maliki from renegotiating the Status of Forces Agreement (sofa) that sets the December 31 deadline. The Sadrist bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, an important part of Maliki’s governing majority, is dead set against a continued American military presence. Other Iraqi politicians, who whisper to visiting American journalists and pundits how much they want U.S. forces to stay, will not argue that position in public or try to put together a parliamentary majority in favor of an extension of the sofa. Maliki himself is unwilling to take this case directly to the parliament or the Iraqi people. Presumably they, as democratic politicians, know their own public opinion and their own political landscape better than the Kagans do. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the desire of committed ideological minorities like the Sadrists to get the Americans out is not counterbalanced by any mobilized Arab Iraqi constituency that wants them to stay, and that the median Arab Iraqi voter (Kurds would hold different opinions) would be just as happy to see the U.S. troops go. That might be the wrong decision, but it seems to be the democratic one.