Before leaving on a well-deserved vacation, President Obama made a statement on the situation in northern Iraq and took a few questions.
Near the end, one of the esteemed members of the White House press corps asked—and I’m paraphrasing—”Do you regret not leaving troops in Iraq.”
I beat my head against my desk and blacked out for a few minutes upon hearing this query, but have now recovered enough to pen this essay.
This shouldn’t have to be repeated ad nauseam, but it seems that it must be so.
After former president George W. Bush’s misadventure into Mesopotamia—which exceeded its original 6 month timetable by about 6 and a half years—the Iraqis were quite eager to be rid of us. Mr. Bush, obviously, wanted to get something for his disaster. He wanted to leave a residual force in Iraq, to train Iraqi troops and “fight terrorism”—terrorism which hadn’t existed until American brigades invaded from Kuwait.
Part of any standard Status of Forces Agreement between the US and a foreign government is that US personnel are immune from prosecution for alleged crimes in the host country. Any alleged crimes will be dealt with by the US military justice system.
Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki balked at this. The Iraqi government would under no circumstances agree to this. And, more to the point, the basing of a residual force would hamper the Maliki government’s main aim, which was to impose a Shi’a hegemony on the country. Therefore, for those reasons, a SOFA was agreed to which stipulated that all US troops would withdraw from Iraq. A SOFA negotiated and agreed to by the Bush Administration. President Obama—also eager to end the debacle of our Iraqi war—inherited this agreement, and implemented it.
This was not a secret agreement. This agreement was not hidden from the public. It has been reported on widely in the press, both domestically and internationally.
However, ever since ISIL began its Iraqi rampage, it’s as if members of the US mainstream media have all gone in for neurosurgery to extract all memory of the SOFA negotiated and acceded to by Mr. Bush. Now the talking point is that Pres. Obama was the one who pulled out US troops unilaterally, that he could have left troops in country if he had wanted to, that the massacres occurring now are completely of his doing.
The fecklessness of our media never ceases to amaze me. A media which lay supine like a beaten hound before the Bush administration for most of its eight years in office—until, at the end, it was safe to mock it—now blames Pres. Obama for, once again, having to save something out of the mess his predecessor created. Pres. Obama campaigned on getting the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and against overextending an abused US military. He came into office with the Iraqi SOFA agreed to and ratified. The Iraqis were eager to see the back end of their “liberators”. And this same Iraqi government—put in place and supported by the Bush administration—has proven inept, corrupt, and venal, creating the conditions for ISIL to gain a foothold in Iraq and exploit it.
Any cursory examination of The Google would point this out to the ink-stained wretches. But for them, it’s as if all of America’s troubles began on January 20, 2009.
As I tweeted a few days ago, the world’s most powerful politician is attended to by a press corps awash in parochialism and ignorance. It ignorantly cheerled the previous administration’s every action; now it ignorantly snipes at and questions this one. It’s no wonder that citizens are fed up with all levels of government. The broadcast media, which holds its place on the airwaves as a public trust, doesn’t inform or educate its viewers. It engages in the cheapest of journalism, giving no context but merely saying “both sides are to blame”. And usually, its reporting betrays even that construction, as it usually operates from a place of Republican talking points.
A free press is a necessity to a democracy. But when broadcast media are owned by five corporations, and when what newspapers survive are being gobbled up by chains, what kind of free press do we have? I’m not asking for cheerleading of the Obama administration. What I’m asking for is honest, nuanced reporting, reporting which delves into the grey areas, rather than jerking complex issues into a black/white paradigm. American citizens have to be informed again that the world is not simple, and need to think in complex terms, because our decisions as to whom we elect to lead us affect people half a world away.
Our democracy would be much better served by a press corps which still reported critically and skeptically on the current administration, but gave its reporting context to allow its consumers to come to informed conclusions. Asking inane “gotcha” questions serves no one, except for the media’s own inflated opinion of itself.