Stanford military experts interviewed by The Daily were not surprised by the announcement President Obama delivered on Fri., Oct. 21 that the United States would withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The announcement sets a final end date for almost a decade of U.S. occupation in the country.
“It’s not a surprise,” said Colonel Joseph Felter, a senior research fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). “We’ve planned to leave for quite some time.”
Prior to joining CISAC, Felter served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was the leader of the International Security and Assistance Force, Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT) in Afghanistan.
Felter is optimistic about how far Iraq has come in the past few years.
“In many ways, [the announcement] is good news…I served there in the days when many people would have been doubtful that we’d come this far,” Felter said. “I think it’s a tribute to a lot of hard work and sacrifice. The American coalition with the Iraqis has gotten the country back on its feet, and it can fend for itself.”
Colonel Charlie Miller, a visiting fellow at CISAC representing the U.S. Army, expressed similar views on the President’s proclamation.
“We are fulfilling the obligations that were agreed upon between Iraq and the Untied States during the Bush administration,” Miller said. “We signed an agreement with [the Iraqis] called the security agreement, and it stipulated that all U.S. forces would be out by the first day of 2012.”
Miller also served two tours in Iraq and was Director for Iraq in the White House before coming to Stanford.
Miller and Felter both noted, however, that many predicted an extended U.S. presence in the country.
“There had been an expectation that perhaps there would be a continued role for the United States to provide training,” Miller said. “The [Iraqis] have decided at this point in time that they’re not open to continuing the U.S. presence in that way.”
“There will be arms sales between the two countries,” he continued. “There’s going to be cooperation on a variety of other fields such as economics, diplomacy and cultural exchanges.”
Felter added that several hundred American personnel would remain on the ground in Iraq for military training purposes as part of the Office of Defensive Cooperation.
This limited continued military presence, Miller explained, is very much the norm of U.S. interactions with its allies in the region.
“Like every other country in the Middle East that we are partners with, we have military officers assigned to the embassy,” Miller said. “They work with the ambassador, and they handle our foreign military sales cases…it’ll be just like a normal relationship with Saudi Arabia and with Kuwait.”
To both Felter and Miller, Obama’s decision is a reflection of a more general trend of American foreign policy in the region.
“I don’t think we are interested in maintaining large troop presences anywhere, to include the Middle East,” Felter said. “That’s pretty consistent with our overall strategy. We don’t like to occupy countries beyond where we think national interests are threatened.”
The continued stability of Iraq, however, remains a very real question.
“A lot of people worry about Iran’s influence in Iraq and might try to cast this as a victory for Iran, and I don’t think that’s a good way to think about it,” Miller said. “Iraq is naturally going to have relations with Iran because they are their next-door neighbor, just like we do with Mexico and Canada. There’ll be trade, there are religious ties, there’s tourism…but in terms of…[Iraq being] subservient to Iran, it’s simply not the case.”