now that Iraq looks lost, Republicans like to blame President Barack Obama’s administration for losing it. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence repeated the charge in this week’s vice presidential debate, claiming that “because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.” The fact that Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine uncharacteristically allowed this to pass without rebuttal made me wonder if he felt that any response he chose would have been a loser.
Those of us more or less in Obama’s corner usually scoff at this allegation as another partisan canard — “wishful thinking,” as Lawrence Korb put it last year, by those “trying to cast blame on Obama.” It was the Iraqis who lost Iraq, and above all then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite strongman who couldn’t see past sectarian identity and thus turned on the very Sunnis who had fought the Islamic State’s precursor, al Qaeda in Iraq, alongside U.S. troops. Maliki ultimately threw his lot in with Iran, the region’s great Shiite power, which was all too willing to support his crusade against the Sunnis