If we retreat from Iraq, will Iran take over?
One of the most curious features of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is the contrast between the silky, non-confrontational public diplomacy it employs when dealing with dictatorships and adversaries, such as Russia, China and Venezuela — and the brusqueness with which it often addresses U.S. clients and allies.
The latest example of this came last week in Iraq, where the United States is engaged in a complex and high-stakes competition with Iran. At immediate issue is whether Iraq’s Shiite-led government will ask Washington to leave behind 10,000 or so soldiers of the 47,000 troops now there, instead of completing a full withdrawal by the end of this year.
The larger question is whether Iraq will be forced by a full U.S. pullout to become an Iranian satellite, a development that would undo a huge and painful investment of American blood and treasure and deal a potentially devastating blow to the larger U.S. position in the Middle East.
The administration has made it fairly clear that it is willing to make a deal to leave behind some troops. But coaxing the fragmented and prickly Iraqi leadership into making the right choice would require subtlety, patience and high-level engagement — like that the Bush administration employed when it negotiated a strategic framework with Iraq before leaving office in 2008, or that Vice President Biden used in helping to broker an agreement on a new Iraqi government last year.