Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s new memoir, “Worthy Fights,” promises to be much like other books from former Obama administration officials. It will provide insight normally reserved until after a president leaves office.
Panetta couldn’t wait. Like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he wants to get his side of the story out there before it’s cast in concrete by sycophants who will write their own versions of events in books lauding Obama’s handling of virtually everything he’s touched since becoming president.
Kudos to Panetta for revealing how Obama’s inner circle sabotaged any chance to leave a residual military force in Iraq in 2011. Iraq, the United States and allies throughout the region and indeed the world are now caught up in the consequences. ISIS, born from the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, is now a force the world must deal with.
In his book Panetta says he argued behind the scenes for a small number of troops to be left to continue training Iraq's military. To no avail. "Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests,” he writes. It was politics at its best.
What damaged the Iraqis and our own interests most when we pulled out was the dismantling of the intelligence systems, operations and activities that our military had put together over the years. Clandestine networks put together with the loyal Sunni tribes had infiltrated the enemy effectively, and the Iraqi special operations forces who had been trained by and operated alongside our special operations teams were capable of continuing the targeted operations with the support and assistance of the residual element we could have left.
Iraq’s ability to aggressively go after insurgents, including Al Qaeda and later ISIS, was based on our presence. Panetta and others in the Pentagon who pushed for a continued presence certainly knew that.
After sacrificing over 4,600 American lives and almost $2 trillion over nine years, we were out, leaving behind a still fractured country and a leader we had supported since he took office in 2006 and over whom we still had a modicum of influence.
Our departure was the beginning of a long free fall into rampant sectarian violence, dismissal of government and military leaders who had shown any preference toward the Americans, and the disintegration of the Iraqi army. It allowed ISIS to cross into Iraq from its havens in Syria and stampede to the very gates of Baghdad.
In coming out swinging at the White House’s “inner circle” for failing to secure an agreement with the Maliki government, Panetta makes us wonder who this small group of people are who have set our country on a difficult and long course that will cost us more money and lives. And we must wonder about a president who rejects advice from the very military and civilian leaders who are sworn to serve him and the American public. Panetta gives us some insight.
In leaving Iraq as we did, the administration pulled out any semblance of stability and demonstration of commitment to the Iraqis who had believed in us and our cause. It dishonored those who gave their lives there, and indeed every man and woman who served.
At a Nov. 1, 2012, speech in Green Bay, Wis., the president stated, “The war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, Al Qaeda has been decimated, Usama bin Laden is dead.” At least he got the last one right.
The president will be long gone from office and enjoying his days fundraising or on the golf course when the full impact of our abandoning Iraq is still being played out. ISIS is not the “JV team,” and Al Qaeda is not “decimated.” And countless dollars and lives will be expended before they are.