Tags: Barack Obama | Iraq | Iraq in Crisis | ISIS/Islamic State | Syria | panetta | obama

Panetta: Obama Wrong on Iraq Pullout, Failure to Arm Syrians

By    |   Sunday, 21 Sep 2014 07:36 PM

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says his old boss, President Barack Obama, erred when he failed to leave a residual military force in Iraq – and when he didn't opt to arm the Free Syrian Army earlier.

"I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq," Panetta said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes."

Panetta said he and Obama's other advisers thought that at least 8,000 U.S. troops should have stayed in Iraq. "And frankly, having those troops there I think would've given us greater leverage on [Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki to try to force him to do the right thing as well."

The Obama administration has insisted that al-Maliki would not make a "status of forces" agreement that U.S. troops would not be prosecuted by Iraq's government. Republican critics claim the real reason is that Obama wanted to fulfill his campaign promise to completely end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al-Maliki proved a disappointment to the United States and to the people who elected him. A Shia Muslim, al-Maliki fired many Sunni leaders in his government and in the military. When the group now known as the Islamic State (ISIS) came in to fill the void, many Sunnis initially welcomed them and Iraq troops, who were then leaderless, laid down their American-supplied arms and ran.

But once ISIS began killing non-Muslims, and even Muslims who did not agree to their narrow vision of what they call original Islam, they had already gained control of much of northern Iraq. ISIS maintains its base of operations in eastern Syria.

"I think we gave 'em a chance," Panetta said. "But instead, (al-Maliki) turned to vengeance. And vengeance never pays off."

Panetta says in his new book "Worthy Fights" that he, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey all urged Obama in the fall of 2012 to arm the Syrian rebels, who are fighting a three-way civil war with ISIS and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

Panetta says he believes Obama feared that providing weapons to the Free Syrian Army might have been a mistake if they had wound in the hands of our enemies.

But Panetta told "60 Minutes" he believes arming them at the time would have helped.

"And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS," he said.

Panetta warned it will take a "long time" to destroy ISIS.

"And I think the American people need to know it's going to take a long time," he said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II told "60 Minutes" that though he hates the "heretic," ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi has distorted Islam in his attempt to set up what he calls a caliphate.

"I think to use the word Islam and him in the same sentence is not acceptable," Abdullah said. "For him to even speak in the name of Islam is so horrendous and so shocking."

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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says his old boss, President Barack Obama, erred when he failed to leave a residual military force in Iraq - and when he didn't opt to arm the Free Syrian Army earlier.
panetta, obama, wrong, iraq, syria
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2014-36-21
Sunday, 21 Sep 2014 07:36 PM
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