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You blame Bush for the wrong mistake--response

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in response to reader comment: You blame Bush for the wrong mistake

Submitted by James Strom (United States), Jun 25, 2014 at 22:09

Well, thanks for that challenge. Since you are a scholar of the area, and that is in fact why I read your blog, you would have high quality sources of information at hand, while I was working from my recollection of the era in question. But I have managed to come up with a few things that are relevant.

My first paragraph refers to Bush's attitude to the status of forces agreement (SOFA) but implicitly also to Bush's conviction that the war on terror would last over an extended time. The latter point should not be too controversial, since it was widely discussed during the early Bush administration. Here is an op-ed from Tom Hayden denouncing the idea of a "long war" lasting for several generations.


I suspect that the "long war" idiom came out of the defense department, but I am pretty sure that Bush himself used the term once or twice. This is worth making explicit, because if Bush saw the US as involved in managing affairs in the Middle East for an extended period, it is quite likely that an extended stay in Iraq would be compatible with his overall idea.

Next, I have hit upon an investigation by the WaPo's fact checker, Glenn Kessler. Admittedly, this is recent, but it looks at recollections regarding the SOFA negotiations.


This is a discussion of a claim by Senator McCain that Obama could and should have concluded a status of forces agreement with Iraq at the conclusion of the previous agreement. Both sides appeared to lean toward accepting a presence of US troops for training and possibly logistics. Agreement could not be reached due to the political postures taken on all sides. In particular, Obama required approval by the Iraqi parliament, while Maliki was willing only to make an informal commitment.

Glenn Kessler, writes:

"The Bush administration signed a SOFA with Iraq in 2008 that established a deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. But there was some expectation that the SOFA could be renewed after that, with at least a small U.S. force remaining."

James Jeffrey, former ambassador to Iraq, is quoted as saying that everyone in the Obama administration (probably mostly the military) agreed that a US force of about 5,000 should be kept for training purposes.

Finally, I have Hugh Hewitt's recent interview with former VP Cheney:


There's quite a bit included, but at one point Cheney says,

"And while certainly, you know, the Iraq operation was a tough one, it went on longer than we thought it would, but in the final analysis, what was left for the Obama administration to do was to get that SOFA agreement, that status of forces agreement, and leave behind enough of a U.S. force so that we could help the Iraqis help themselves, and maintain their sovereign territory and develop and operate a respectable security force."

Cheney clearly speaks as though he understood that Bush had left Obama with the task of getting some kind of renewal of the agreement. Hewett also offers quotes from Hillary Clinton and Obama to the effect that they did offer to make an extension of the SOFA, again generally in keeping with the expectation that Cheney had expressed.

Now, Obama did not get that agreement, as I said, because he insisted on formal parliamentary approval, which was not attainable. Cynics have suggested that Obama set his condition in the negotiation to deliberately torpedo the agreement, but I have no opinion on that.

So, have I proved that Bush expected, or hoped for, a continuation of American military presence in Iraq? In your position, I would say no, because the sources are rather weak, although Cheney is not, and why would I want to make such an admission anyway! But for my purposes I believe I've established that it is quite plausible that Bush thought that continued American support was called for (and events have proved this right). And continued presence is and was consistent with his long term hopes for the region.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

"Long war" always referred to the fight against Islamist violence, not the war in Iraq

I acknowledge that Bush might have expected his successor to change the terms of the SOFA but I do not recall from then nor see in your research here anything that specifically points to that.

In any case, it makes little sense to me that Bush would sign for complete withdrawal of US troops and expect that later to be undone.

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