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GOP Iraq Hypocrisy Hits Overdrive

Obama is ‘taking a nap’ as ISIS takes over? It was Boehner’s party that gave us this war, and it was Bush who negotiated the ‘peace.’ Is there anything they won’t play politics with?

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The list of contenders for most offensive statement by a Republican over the last six years could stretch to Mars and back, even if printed out in small agate type. The one I’m about to cite may not take the gold, but I did a triple-cringe with a double gag when I heard John Boehner’s remark about President Obama “taking a nap” with respect to Mosul.

Here’s what he said Thursday: “It’s not like we haven’t seen over the last five or six months these terrorists moving in, taking control of western Iraq. Now they’ve taken control of Mosul. They’re 100 miles from Baghdad. And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap!”

Now, there are things to criticize Obama about here, goodness knows. His mishandling of the Syrian crisis—probably the most catastrophic and consequential error of his presidency, in my view—helped give rise to ISIS. As ever, he talked too big (it was an election year) about withdrawing from Iraq with honor and all that rot.

But please. It’s just so disgustingly dishonest of Boehner to talk like that. As we all know, it was Boehner’s party that gave us this war, with his own support back in 2002, when the House voted. Yeah, too many Democrats signed on to this hideous folly, but the war in Iraq was obviously a GOP production. If you remember the sound of the war drums at the time, you remember who was doing most of the beating on them.

And by the way—and a lot of people seem not to be remembering this over these last few awful days —the “peace” for which Obama is now being savaged by all the geniuses who were wrong about the war in the first place was a GOP production, too. Remember that press conference toward the end of his term when Bush got those shoes thrown at him? The purpose of that press conference, held in Baghdad, was for Bush and Nouri al-Maliki to announce that they’d come to agreement on a Status of Forces Agreement that dictated the terms of U.S. withdrawal from the country. The SOFA called for virtually all American forces to be gone by New Year’s Day 2012.

A little history on the SOFA: It was being negotiated after the surge had quelled daily violence to a considerable degree. But even so, more than 100,000 Iraqis had been killed, millions had been displaced or left their country, basic services in most cities were plenty iffy, and so on. Iraqis all of sects were desperate for the Americans to leave. So they negotiated a timeline that many Bushies thought too tight, but the pressure on the Iraqis was enormous to get the United States out. Iraqi negotiators insisted on more than 100 changes to the document. From Bush’s end, he basically had to take what the Iraqis gave him, because if he didn’t negotiate the 2012 deadline, all U.S. forces would had to have been gone by the end of 2008. That would have been a highly precipitous withdrawal and would have looked suspiciously like defeat. I’m so glad we had a “tough” president.

In other words, the timetable here was Bush’s, not Obama’s. Should Obama have stuck to the negotiated timetable? Maybe not. But the Maliki government wasn’t exactly eager for a renegotiation. Neither were the American people. Sure, Obama wanted to be able to campaign in 2012 saying he’d gotten our forces out. But a renegotiation of the SOFA to keep up to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for a longer period would have been extremely difficult politically, more so in Iraq than in the United States. And of course it goes without saying, although I’ll say it, that if Obama had negotiated such an agreement, John McCain and Boehner and Mitt Romney, instead of attacking Obama for keeping too few forces, would have attacked him for keeping too many.

So it’s fine to give Obama some of the blame for the current Iraq mess. But he’s like the guy the captain of the Titanic turned to when he heard the scout yell “Iceberg!” and said, “Here, you take the wheel.” It was clear enough back in December 2008, when Bush negotiated the SOFA, that we were just ducking and running according to a politically acceptable timetable that had nothing to do with the reality on the ground. Everyone knew that that reality could easily, indeed would likely, devolve into the sectarian disaster we see now. And as a side note, let’s not forget the decision by Bush’s man Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi army. That left a lot of unemployed officers who, according to regional expert Fawaz Gerges, went and joined…ISIS.

And finally, we have to ask: Is there anything, anything at all that the Republicans wouldn’t use as a political sledgehammer to pound Obama with? What would it take for that hypocrite McCain, who tweeted back in 2010, when the last U.S. combat troops left Iraq, that Bush deserved “some credit for the victory,” to say something like: “Hey, you know what? We’re all responsible here for this problem. I haven’t supported the president’s approach, but I voted for this war. Maybe all of us who voted for this war should work with the president to figure out how to solve this problem.”

That you are laughing at how naive that sounds isn’t a reflection on me. It’s a reflection on today’s Republican Party. It shouldn’t be such a ludicrous notion, especially given their history as the people who brought us this epic disaster, that a Republican might say such a thing. Could you imagine that? The opposition working with the White House, trying to solve a problem that everyone one way or another bears some kind of responsibility for? I didn’t think so.