Former Defense Secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta allowed Time magazine to print an excerpt from his new book, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” and in it he offers a stinging rebuke of the Obama administration’s decision to let a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq slip through its fingers.
Mr. Panetta writes:
Privately, the various leadership factions in Iraq all confided that they wanted some U.S. forces to remain as a bulwark against sectarian violence. But none was willing to take that position publicly, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki concluded that any Status of Forces Agreement, which would give legal protection to those forces, would have to be submitted to the Iraqi parliament for approval. That made reaching agreement very difficult given the internal politics of Iraq, but representatives of the Defense and State departments, with scrutiny from the White House, tried to reach a deal.
We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence. …
Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy … argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.
To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized. To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.
In short, the guy who billed himself as the diplomat extraordinaire got everyone around the table and said, “How do you guys want to do this? Not sure? Okay. Well, see you later!“
While the urge to accuse Mr. Panetta of trying to safeguard his reputation is strong, consider this: President Obama — who flippantly called Islamic State a “J.V. team” as they were gobbling up Iraq — is the type of guy who will go on “60 Minutes” and throw the entire intelligence community under the bus, despite incontrovertible evidence that the intelligence community was ringing the alarm bells in his face.
The Washington Post reported Sept. 30:
Reporters quickly noticed that there were warnings, aired publicly many months ago, about the capabilities and intentions of the Islamic State. Should it really have been a surprise?
The paper goes on to cite warnings from Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, from Nov. 14, 2013, Gen. Michael Flynn, U.S. Army director, Defense Intelligence Agency, on Feb. 11, 2014, and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Adm. Mike Rogers from Sept. 18, 2014. Then, in true Post fashion, it cannot bring itself to give Mr. Obama a “Pinocchio,” — it went with “Verdict Pending” — despite its own reporting that confirms he lied on national television.
Is the verdict still “pending” now that Mr. Obama’s hand-picked former CIA Director has publicly stated that the president chose to ignore the advice of a gigantic wall of agreement between the military and intelligence communities on Iraq and Syria? The Washington Post’s exercise in doublethink is astounding — it essentially says “This and this and this and this and this prove the president is lying — the president is not lying.”
If you were watching the “60 Minutes” interview and thought, “How does the president get away with this?” look no further than the type of news outlets that resort to some variation of “These are not the drones you are looking for” any time the president’s credibility is truly threatened.
Media that refuse to hold the president accountable are culpable for the consequences of their obfuscation. Every time they write the equivalent of “verdict pending” on the president when it is not, their credibility is corroded. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only victims. Without a free and honest press, the nation hollows itself out from within.