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Biden's Iraq War Walk-Back Is Revisionist Nonsense

Marc A. Thiessen · Nov. 8, 2019

Former vice president Joe Biden said in a recent interview he agrees with Jim Mattis that the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq was a mistake, but that as vice president he tried to keep “a residual force” stationed there. This is revisionist nonsense. Just a few months ago, at the July Democratic presidential debate, Biden boasted that “one of the proudest moments of my life was to stand there in Al-Faw Palace and tell everyone that … all our combat troops are coming home.” In September, he declared, “We were right to get the combat troops out.” But now he agrees it was a mistake?

The fact is, at the time Biden expressed zero regrets about the complete U.S. withdrawal, which he was in charge of executing. The New York Times reports that in December 2011 Biden was “ebullient” as he presided over the departure ceremony for the last American forces, calling President Barack Obama from Baghdad to tell him “All I’ve said about this job, I take it back. Thank you for giving me the chance to end this goddamn war.”

Of course, he did not actually end the “goddamn war,” he unleashed a humanitarian and national security catastrophe. Biden’s withdrawal created a vacuum that allowed the Islamic State — which had been reduced to just 700 fighters — to regroup, reconstitute itself and build a murderous caliphate the size of Great Britain. The terrorists enslaved and raped thousands of Yazidi girls and carried out gruesome executions across Iraq and Syria. And they spread their murderous tentacles across the globe, carrying out 143 attacks in 29 countries that killed over 2,000 people and injured many thousands more.

Biden has criticized President Trump for withdrawing from Syria against the advice of our military commanders. Yet Biden did not listen to our military commanders when it came to the Iraq withdrawal. The Times reports that Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the U.S. commander in Iraq, proposed keeping as many as 24,000 troops in Iraq. According to Biden national security adviser Colin H. Kahl, Austin was told by the White House “you’ve got to be kidding.” So Austin presented Obama and Biden with options for 19,000, 16,000 and 10,000 troops — and told them the lowest number was “unwise.” But Biden “aggressively pushed for a smaller force,” and Obama agreed. Then, during negotiations with the Iraqis, the administration cut the offer in half to just 5,000 — an offer the Iraqis rejected.

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Biden blamed George W. Bush for the U.S. withdrawal, noting that he had negotiated a status of forces agreement that required an end to the U.S. military presence by 2011. Please. Does anyone really believe that if Bush were still in office in 2011, he would have pulled out all U.S. forces? Of course not.

The reason Obama and Biden were unable to get an agreement to extend the U.S. troop presence is because they made it crystal clear to the Iraqis that America was headed for the exits. Iraqis watched as Obama and Biden rejected numbers well above 10,000, only grudgingly agreed to even that number and then cut that number to 5,000. If you were an Iraqi, would this have given you confidence in America’s long-term commitment?

Iran and its political allies inside Iraq were pressing for a U.S. withdrawal, and threatening politicians who supported extending the American military presence. For Iraqi leaders, 24,000 American troops might have been worth the political risk, and maybe even 10,000 would have been worth it. But an offer of just 5,000 troops from an administration that was determined to go to zero as quickly as possible was not. If America was leaving, and Iran was staying, why risk siding with the Americans?

In 2013, as the Islamic State was gaining steam, Biden said that he and Obama felt “happy and … fulfilled” with the decision to withdraw from Iraq. A year later, they would be forced to send U.S. forces back to Iraq to deal with the debacle they had unleashed.

Biden supported the Iraq invasion but then opposed the Bush surge, which crushed the Islamic State and won the war. Then he supported a premature withdrawal that allowed the terrorists to regroup and was celebrating that decision as recently as four months ago — but now says he regrets it. That’s quite a record for a man running on his record of experience and judgment.

© 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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