McCain Plays Politics with Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) played shameless politics during a hearing on Tuesday on the US withdrawal from Iraq. McCain more or less called Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a liar to his face when Panetta explained that negotiations with the Iraqi government to keep some US troops in that country faltered on the issue of immunity.

For US troops to remain in Iraq after December 31 would require a new Status of Forces agreement, approved by the Iraqi parliament. The US insisted that any new SOFA contain a guarantee that US troops would not be open to prosecution in Iraqi courts. There is always the danger that what the US considers a legitimate military operation would after the fact be construed by an Iraqi court judge as a war crime, and that GIs might be jailed or executed for the operation. No US officer would be willing to operate in a foreign country under those circumstances.

McCain suggested that Panetta is actually just a politician, and that Obama deliberately sloughed off on attempts to maintain a US force in Iraq, so as to gain points with the US electorate, which wants out of Iraq.

AP has video:

I only wish that what McCain said was true, since it would have been nice if Obama had stuck to his guns. But typically for him, he initially acquiesced in Pentagon requests that his administration try to get a new SOFA that would permit US troops to remain, with immunity or extraterritoriality.

The fact is that Pentagon and administration negotiations with the Iraqi government broke down on the immunity issue.

But the entire argument is surreal. What in the world makes Sen. McCain think that the Iraqi parliament would ever, ever vote to bring US troops back into Iraq on any scale once they had departed?

Can McCain even name any of the parties in the Iraqi parliament? Can he tell us why any of them would want US troops to remain?

The Iraqi press called the US military “presence” in that country the “occupation” (ihtilal), a word which has extremely negative connotations. E.g. the West Bank is under Israeli occupation. When, in June 2009, US troops ceased their routine patrols of major Iraqi cities, the Iraqis, including the military and government officials, held a huge celebration. It rather hurt the feelings of the Pentagon.

Some Iraqi politicians, such as Sheikh Abbas al-Muhammadawi of the Brave Sons of Iraq Coalition, are already questioning whether the US military will really withdraw, and insisting that it must do so. McCain’s statements will only roil Iraq further.

Let’s see. The Sadr II Bloc of Shiite clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr has 40 seats. Muqtada is die hard set against US troops being in Iraq, and has threatened violence over the issue. His bloc is key to the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, so if he got angry over this issue and pulled his support, the Iraqi government could fall.

Then you have the Da’wa Islamiya [Islamic Mission] Party, headed by PM al-Maliki, which leads a coalition that has 89 seats in parliament. The Da’wa is a Shiite fundamentalist party that follows the ideas of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (d. 1980) on the Islamic economy and Islamic law as a basis for society. Does McCain really think the Da’wa would vote for foreign military occupation?

Then you have the Iraqiya list, 80% of which is now Sunni Arab. US troops have fought a lot of battles with Sunni Arabs, and it seems highly unlikely that they would vote for US troops in Iraq. They have 91 seats.

There are 320 seats, and we’ve already come up with 220 “no” votes. Game over.

Sen. McCain should explain how Secretary Panetta or President Obama was supposed to change the minds of the Sadr II Bloc, the Islamic Mission Party, or the Iraqiya.

Blaming Obama for the alienation between Iraqi politicians and the US military is absurd. It was the Bush administration that created this mess, it was the Bush administration that made the US even more unpopular than before in Iraq and the Arab world by its “kinetic” military activities, and it was even the Bush administration that negotiated the withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2011.

McCain seems to want to set up the Republicans so that they can campaign next year against President Obama on a “who lost Iraq to the Iranians?” platform.

But the answer to that question is obvious. George W. Bush and the Republican Party did.

The only way for McCain to keep any substantial number of troops in Iraq would be for him to re-invade the country and occupy it all over again.

I think he’s out there in left field on that one.

And, if what he is worried about is Iraq being pushed into the arms of Iran, there is no better way to accomplish that goal than for US politicians to talk about continuing the US military occupation of Iraq. McCain is his own worst enemy here.

16 Responses

  1. “The US insisted that any new SOFA contain a guarantee that US troops would not be open to prosecution in Iraqi courts… No US officer would be willing to operate in a foreign country under those circumstances.”

    The latter is inaccurate, unless I misunderstand you. We operate in most countries with SOFA agreements that subject our military members to local laws – Germany, UK, Italy, Korea, Japan, etc. To the extent that we believe our own rhetoric that Iraq is a democracy, and our new ally in the Middle East, why would they be any different?

    • In Iraq there is a real possibility that remaining US troops would be engaged in military operations, which is the thing for which immunity was sought. In the SOFAs you mention, they would be open to prosecution for e.g. bar fights off base. It is the prospect of military operations that makes the Pentagon insist on extraterritoriality in Iraq.

      • There are non-US troops stationed in different countries as peace-keepers and support for local forces. I could give Bouganville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands as examples in the Pacific alone where troops could face a more serious situation than a bar brawl.

        I believe many of these foreign troops are liable to prosecution under the International Criminal Court as well as local laws where a war crime is alleged. Is there anything about the US military which makes such a situation impossible?

  2. Calling US military in Iraq an occupation is to me calling a zebra striped. What else would it be called? ‘My’ country (Sweden) is currently occupying a corner of Afghanistan. No other word for it. Once there is a local power (preferably democratic) and security in place the occupation needs to cease before people start to hate the occupiers to much.

    I can’t really understand from my perspective what McCain (and the republicans?) is getting at here other than the Obama-did-this-so-we-have-to-make-a-fuss factor. Do (R) actually think that the US should benefit from staying in Iraq, if so in what way?

    • Rag,

      Iraq was the child of the (R) party and they intend to “win” it so to speak for validation. In addition, many districts that (R) representatives are from, have strong interests (defense contracting) in keeping the war going. The defense contracting industry needs war similar to how the pharmaceutical industry needs sick people.

      • Yes, and a lot of drugs make people sick. For a mild example of this: Lipitor, I am told, which many elderly people take for years and years, causes muscle damage in some people.

        On the whole there is a deal of make-new-business with drugs.

    • Do (R) actually think that the US should benefit from staying in Iraq, if so in what way?

      Remember, Bush gave up those big bases we had in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of this war. They were to be replaced by bases in Iraq.

      Republicans want there to be American troops in Iraq to project power throughout the region.

  3. Australia just announced a “permanent military presence” of 250 Marines on its territory. That should make McCain happy. Apparently, there’s a potential kangoroo threat there.

  4. McCain doesn’t give a rip what the public wants. He almost sounds like a modern day Caligula, as he walks through the marble halls of congress.

    I think McCain’s years spent in a North Viet Nam prison has pushed this insecure, little man into a lifelong effort to explain his ignoble defeat, which sounds very much like his blather about Iraq and Afghanistan. Not enough troops, stay the course, etc.

    His stance seems to point to a misguided notion that by being victorious in modern day wars, his, and this country’s past humiliation, in Viet Nam, will be erased.

    All in all, a sick puppy.

  5. @ Alex R.11/16/2011 at 2:15 am

    A little time googling would have told you that it is not inaccurate and Cole is correct.

    One American official after another up to and including the Secretary of Defence has stated publicly that the refusal of the Iraki government to countenance American immunity from the jurisdiction of their courts was the sticking point. Having seen how American troops behaved there I’m not even slightly surprised that their commanders they don’t want them hauled up to answer for their behaviour in a court of law.

    • One American official after another up to and including the Secretary of Defence has stated publicly….

      Let me tell you something about American officials up to and including the Secretary of Defense…

  6. “Sen. John McCain played shameless politics…”

    I hear the sun also rose in the east this morning. But seriously (?), McCain has been deep in an “I hate Obama” snit since losing the election to him in 2008. No stranger to turning 180 degrees whenever it’s politically expedient (McCain predates Mitt Romney in that regard by decades), McCain has gone into self-reversal overdrive since 2008 to seize every opportunity to knock Obama.

    McCain also still wants to “Bomb, bomb, bomb – bomb bomb Iran”. The President could put a quick halt to that by appearing receptive to the idea…

  7. McCain is a war monger, pure and simple. I would like any reader of this blog to name a war McCain has opposed the U.S. engaging in. If that’s not the case, then the only conclusion can be that he is a craven political loser playing thorn-in-the-side of the person who beat him in the last presidential election. Honestly, it’s time for McCain to retire.

  8. Isn’t the real story here that someone in the Pentagon is continuing to leak information to Senator McCain’s office? His whole foreign policy schtick has for years depended upon his access to a few coupla voices in the defense (war) establishment who feed him their gripes, sour grapes, etc.

    ‘Twas always thus with this clown. Why is no journalist trying to understand who is playing McCain and why?

  9. I think McCain’s right. Obama made an offer he knew the Iraqis would never accept.

    Just like during the debt ceiling negotiations. “Gee, I’d really love to sign onto a deal, but you Republicans need to agree to…let’s see…a trillion dollars in tax increases.”

    Aw, the negotiations fell apart? Who could have known that the Iraqi Parliament wouldn’t sign on to giving American troops immunity for combat operations?!?

    This seems a bit more plausible than the official story, which is that the most powerful empire the world has ever seen really, really wanted to keep troops in a country it had taken over, but then Ooops! At the last minute, some legal wrinkle came up, and there was just nothing we could have done about it, and we had to remove the troops against our will. Because that’s totally how it works.

  10. Ron Paul is weird but he mentioned one or two debates ago that of some 200 nations in the world the US has troops stationed in 150 of them. Can anyone verify that amazing statistic?

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