One of the first barbs Indiana Gov. Mike Pence threw in the vice presidential debate on Tuesday was an unfounded allegation that Hillary Clinton is to blame for the current chaos in Iraq because, as secretary of state, she failed to negotiate an agreement to leave U.S. troops in place there.
“Iraq has been overrun by ISIS. They failed to negotiate. Hillary Clinton has failed to renegotiate the Status of Forces agreement,” Pence, the Republican vice presidential candidate, said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton’s running mate, quickly jumped to her defense, interjecting that the Status of Forces agreement was the responsibility of former President George W. Bush.
Kaine is right.
Clinton had little, if any, role to play in the agreement that dictated how long U.S. troops could stay in Iraq. Before leaving office, Bush negotiated a troop withdrawal plan with then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That plan required all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Some expected Bush’s successor to negotiate an extension that would allow a smaller number of troops to remain in Iraq. But President Barack Obama, who campaigned on winding down the Iraq War, stuck to the timetable Bush and Maliki had agreed upon. He withdrew combat troops by the end of 2010, leaving in place less than 50,000 service personnel. The last convoy of U.S. soldiers left Iraq in December 2011.
As 2011 approached, military officials pushed to have a residual force of several thousand U.S. troops stay behind. Obama was reportedly open to it, but struggled to get Maliki to sign on to the politically unpopular move. After eight years of U.S. occupation, a continued foreign presence was deeply unpopular among most Iraqis. Ultimately, Maliki calculated that it was too politically costly to adjust the Status of Forces agreement.
“The incomplete sovereignty and the presence of foreign troops are the most dangerous, most complicated and most burdensome legacy we have faced since the time of dictatorship,” NPR reported Maliki saying at the time. “Iraq should get rid of them to protect its young democratic experiment.”
Plagued by a corrupt and sectarian government under Maliki, major Iraqi cities fell to Islamic State militants three years later, eventually prompting Obama to deploy a small number of troops to Iraq and to launch daily airstrikes over the country. While the details of Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan deserve scrutiny, it’s inaccurate to say that the current chaos in Iraq is the result of Clinton’s fecklessness.
If anything, Clinton “was a strong advocate for keeping troops there past 2011,” former U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey told The Daily Beast.
Trump, meanwhile, who has denied his initial support for the invasion of Iraq, has publicly called for pulling troops out of Iraq as early as 2007.
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