Asked if he had any “regrets” about not leaving a residual force in Iraq, Obama advised reporters to “Keep in mind, that wasn’t a decision made by me. That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.”
Back in 2011, Obama proudly touted the small number of troops remaining in Iraq as one of his foremost accomplishments. “When I came into office,” he boasted at the time, “I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. As Commander in Chief, I ended our combat mission last year and pledged to keep our commitment to remove all our troops by the end of 2011. To date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops from Iraq.”
In 2011 and 2012, the news was rife with triumphant quotes from Obama about the withdrawal: “After nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” “Change is turning the page on a decade of war so we can do some nation building here at home.” He even announced that he and Maliki were “in full agreement about how to move forward.”
But at a press conference Thursday, Obama suddenly sought to distance himself from the withdrawal: “We offered a modest residual force to help continue to train and advise Iraqi security forces. We had a core requirement which we require in any situation where we have U.S. troops overseas, and that is that they are provided immunity,” he explained. “The Iraqi government and prime minister Maliki declined to provide us that immunity.”
Last week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that “Obviously, the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was not a mistake.” When one reporter questioned whether the president made little effort to negotiate a deal with the Iraqis because of his personal desire to end the war, Psaki responded, “I would say that’s absolutely false. I would remind you that the timeline was laid out by the prior administration. It wasn’t a political decision.”
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz) declared that those who say Iraq declined U.S. assistance are lying. According to McCain, he spoke with Maliki at the time and Maliki was willing to make a deal.