As has been widely noted, Obama's decision to remove all remaining troops from Iraq was the result of failed negotiations over legal immunity for any US troops that would have remained after 2011. The number under negotiation was, according to an interesting article by Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy Magazine, anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 troops. Immunity, of course, would mean that any action undertaken by occupying US troops that led to property damage, injuries and/or deaths of Iraqi citizens could not be redressed under Iraqi law or by Iraqi courts. Given our long and very bloody history in Iraq, it is intuitively obvious that many Iraqis would not want to continue granting such a legal blank-check to Obama, even if some in both countries did see benefits in keeping a small US force within the country. Shame on the Iraqi government for representing that widespread view in their dealings with the US.
The new argument coming from conservative critics of this decision is that Obama "bungled" these negotiations by insisting that the Iraqi Parliament (and not just Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki) must sign off on any immunity agreement. Iraqi nationalist anti-occupation and anti-immunity sentiment there was apparently strong enough to block any agreement that would keep American forces in Iraq beyond the 2011 calendar year, a deadline previously established between Iraq and the Bush administration. Behind these criticisms is a vague, unproven, and yet constantly echoed argument that Iraq is going to invite Iran in, as soon as it is finished kicking the US out. Such claims have never been substantiated, nor are they consistent with Iraqi national identity.
Leaving aside the issue of a supposed shadowy and evil Iranian presence lurking in the background, it is hard to envision how such an agreement could be undertaken without the participation and approval of Iraq's elected parliament, but Rogin's article provides a platform for conservative critics such as Marissa Cochrane Sullivan (based at the Neoconservative "Institute for the Study of War") who are critical of how the negotiations were handled, using the familiar refrain that Iraq is a special case, and that normal measures such as parliamentary approval simply don't apply:
"Iraq is not a normal country, the security environment is not normal, the embassy is not a normal embassy," said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War...From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns," said Sullivan.
"An obvious fix for troop immunity is to put them all on the diplomatic list; that's done by notification to the Iraqi foreign ministry," said one former senior Hill staffer. "If State says that this requires a treaty or a specific agreement by the Iraqi parliament as opposed to a statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry, it has its head up its ass."
Which begs the question--with over a million dead Iraqi citizens spanning the decade since this war began, how could any immunity/basing agreement between Iraq and occupying US forces be anything but "political"? How could they not reflect "domestic concerns"?
Just consider for a moment that the tables were turned, and the two countries were in discussions to base anywhere between 4,000 and 20,000 Iraqi troops not in Iraq, but here in the US. Would we still hear Sullivan, or Rogin's anonymous "former senior Hill staffer" arguing that either 1) that decision would be Obama's alone to decide, without including congress, or; 2) that it would be perfectly fine for Iraq to simply notify our State Department that they would soon be adding many thousands of armed soldiers to Iraq's US embassy staff, and these would be stationed at various bases across America? That kind of proposal is ludicrous to the point of absurdity--and yet it is exactly what is given voice in Rogin's article.
I think a much more realistic way to view this outcome is that Obama was completely correct to insist on Iraq Parliamentary approval of the deal--and in the end, it saved him and us. Whatever institutional or systemic faults may be in Iraqi government (and in the US as well, for that matter), neither the Iraqi parliament nor Prime Minister Maliki were crazy enough to allow the US to continue our two countries' shared agony. The US has helped to stand up a democracy of sorts in Iraq, warts and all. In return, the Iraqi Parliament has finally shown us the door by refusing to let our troops slaughter Iraqi citizens with impunity. In doing so, Iraq has liberated us. Obama, in spite of his best efforts extend the pain, has had the wisdom to accept that very substantial Iraqi gift.