Joe Biden Feigns Confidence in Iraq?

Vice President Joe Biden recently gave a speech in Iraq, heralding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country. His speech obscured some of the details surrounding our exit.

He said:

“President Obama and I came to office absolutely determined to bring this war to a responsible end, and to keep the promise we made to the American people and the people of Iraq that we would meet our commitments. Mr. Prime Minister, as you have seen, we are doing just that. We kept our promise to remove all American troops from Iraq — Iraqi cities. We kept our promise to end our combat mission last August and to reduce our forces in Iraq to 50,000. At the end of this month, we will keep our promise to remove our remaining troops from Iraq, which, when we came to office, numbered 140,000 American forces. Where I come from, where the President comes from, a promise made is a promise kept. And we are keeping our promise. At every step along the way, as the Prime Minister pointed out, there were skeptics — skeptics who said, don’t move too fast; what if the Iraqis aren’t ready to take on this responsibility? But the Iraq security forces proved to be more than ready.”

There are a couple of problems with what Biden said.

First, the agreement for U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 — and for U.S. forces to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 — was an agreement reached under the administration of President George W. Bush. This “promise” was codified under the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was negotiated over several months in 2008, and formally agreed to in November-December of that year.

Biden’s statement makes it sound like the withdrawal is in accord with a campaign promise made by President Barack Obama in the 2008 election. It is, but it’s also in line with a promise made by the U.S. government prior to Obama and Biden taking office.

Second, in recent months, the Obama administration was negotiating with the Iraqi government, trying to come up with an agreement that would allow some U.S. forces to stay in Iraq beyond the SOFA. The intention was to have more U.S. troops stay on to train Iraqi forces. No agreement was reached — largely, it seems, because Iraq insisted that any U.S. forces allowed to stay past 2011 would not be given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts — and so the original SOFA has remained in effect.

In other words, Biden is giving the Obama administration credit for upholding a withdrawal set by the Bush administration that the Obama administration was trying to unwind. And Biden is chastising “skeptics” for questioning whether Iraqi forces were up to the job of defending their own country, when the reason the Obama administration was trying to undo Bush’s SOFA was to give Iraqi forces more time to be trained by U.S. forces.

So, it looks like the Obama administration itself lacked confidence that the Iraqi military could take over security duties. And it looks like Biden is giving the Obama administration too much credit for being faithful to a promise that they were trying to negotiate their way out of.

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