It was an applause line during almost every campaign address made by President Obama in 2012: “I promised to end the war in Iraq, and I did.”
Now, he’s backing off.
President Obama ordered a full troop withdrawal from Iraq, which was completed in December 2011. But the country did not stabilize, as was predicted by Obama and key members of his administration. Instead, it has descended into greater chaos with the violent al Qaeda offshoot ISIL threatening to take over the country.
The situation became so dire that last week, as ISIL neared the city of Erbil, Obama ordered targeted air strikes to protect American diplomats and military personnel and provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi people. When a reporter asked him Saturday if he had “second thoughts” about pulling ground troops out of Iraq, Obama bristled at the question and pawned responsibility off to the Iraqis and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for not making a status of forces agreement.
“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up as if this was my decision,” Obama said. “Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.”
In June, Obama made a similar denial when asked if he had regrets about not leaving a residual force in Iraq.
“Keep in mind, that wasn’t a decision made by me,” he said. “That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.”
Yet, as the Washington Post reported, Obama tried to draw a clear distinction between himself and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 by clearly stating he didn’t want to have leave any troops in Iraq at all:
“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. “That’s not true,” Obama interjected. “Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?” Romney asked as an argument ensued. “No,” Obama said. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
What was a popular line in 2012 is now something Obama would have people believe he couldn’t control.