Fox News' The Kelly File hosted 2012 Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to attack President Obama's foreign policy and rewrite the history of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
President Obama on August 7 authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq to prevent "genocide" and protect Americans in the region. The Islamic State released a video of its murder of American journalist James Foley on Tuesday, citing the U.S. airstrikes and demanding an end to them. The airstrikes prompted a right-wing media backlash blaming President Obama for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which they accused of increasing the danger posed by the Islamic State.
On August 21, Fox host Megyn Kelly accused President Obama of a reversal on "whether he did or did not order the withdrawal of all of our troops," and of making the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq. After making this assertion, she asked 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney whether Obama "is misleading the American people." Romney claimed President Obama had made "extraordinary errors with regards to the Middle East," and cited the lack of "the Status of Forces Agreement that would allow us to have troops in Iraq" as a fundamental cause contributing to the growth of the Islamic State and the danger it represents.
Contrary to this attempt to rewrite history, President Obama did not refuse to negotiate a SOFA with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind American forces. His attempts to negotiate the SOFA were thwarted by the Iraqi government, whose parliament was unwilling to approve the agreement -- approval that was made necessary by a precedent set in 2008 by President Bush.
Time reported in 2011 that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was "an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending" the existing SOFA. The AP also noted that the Iraqi government stopped the SOFA negotiations when it became unwilling to grant American troops legal immunity -- protections "common in nearly every country where U.S. forces operate," and similar to those guaranteed in Bush's 2008 SOFA. Colin H. Kahn, the senior Pentagon official responsible for Iraq policy during the first three years of the Obama administration, explained:
Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told U.S. negotiators that he was willing to sign an executive memorandum of understanding that included these legal protections. But for any agreement to be binding under the Iraqi constitution, it had to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. This was the judgment of every senior administration lawyer and Maliki's own legal adviser, and no senior U.S. military commander made the case that we should leave forces behind without these protections.
Unfortunately, Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal. Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the U.S. military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American G.I.s to stay). Maliki was willing to consider going to parliament to approve a follow-on agreement, but he was not willing to stick his neck out.
So when Iraq's major political bloc leaders met in early October 2011 in an all-night session, they agreed on the need for continued U.S. "trainers" but said they were unwilling to seek immunities for these troops through the parliament. The die was thus cast. Obama and Maliki spoke on Oct. 21 and agreed that U.S. forces would depart as scheduled by the end of the year.
Watch Megyn Kelly's interview with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan below: