Obama: Pulling All U.S. Troops Out of Iraq Was Not 'My Decision'

Terence P. Jeffrey | August 9, 2014 | 8:37pm EDT
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - When he was running for re-election in 2012, President Barack Obama repeatedly took credit for ending the war in Iraq and bringing all U.S. troops home from that country. At the White House on Saturday, however, when talking about his decision to use military force against the al-Qaida-related ISIS terrorist group in Iraq, Obama said removing all U.S. troops from Iraq was not “my decision.”

“You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” Obama said in Hollywood, Florida on Nov. 4, 2012.  “I said I'd end the war in Iraq. I ended it.”

That statement was similar--or identical--to many others Obama made on the campaign trail in the 2012 campaign.

On the South Lawn of the White House today, after Obama explained why he had ordered the U.S. military to renew airstrikes in Iraq, a reporter asked Obama about his decision to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq.

“Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq?” the reporter asked. “And does it give you pause as the U.S.--is it doing the same thing in Afghanistan?”

“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision,” Obama said, indicating he does not believe it was his decision as commander in chief of U.S. troops in a congressionally authorized action in Iraq to decide whether the troops should stay or leave.

“Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government,” Obama said. “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.

“And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances,” Obama said. “And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice, which would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.

“So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were--a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq,” said Obama.

Obama went on to say that he does not believe it would not have made any difference if he had decided to keep troops in Iraq.

“The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable,” said Obama. “And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job. And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.

“So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong,” said Obama. “But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.”

On Dec. 14, 2011, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama delivered speeches at Fort Bragg, North Carolina that the White House posted under the headline: “Remarks by the President and First Lady on the End of the War in Iraq.”

“Now, Iraq is not a perfect place, Obama said. “It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.

“This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making,” said Obama.

At the end of his speech, Obama said: “You helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq.”

On the campaign trail eleven months later, just before the 2012 election, Obama repeated in Cincinnati on Nov. 4 what he had said earlier that day in Hollywood, Fla.

“But you know I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” said Obama. “I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I ended the war in Iraq.”

He repeated the same words the next day in Madison, Wisconsin, and Columbus, Ohio.

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