President Barack Obama rejected multiple warnings that Iraq might slide back into anarchy and become a terrorist haven without a substantial U.S. troop force in place after 2011, Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta writes in his forthcoming memoir, "Worthy Fights."
In an excerpt published in Time, Panetta writes
that he was among those arguing forcefully for some troops to remain to help protect gains that the U.S. had paid dearly for in eight years of fighting.
But he writes that "those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests."
The book expands on criticisms that Panetta, Obama's former secretary of defense and director of central intelligence, leveled at the president on "60 Minutes."
Many critics of the president's pullout have blamed it for the chaos engulfing Iraq today, with the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, laying siege to that country as well as Syria.
"Worthy Fights," which goes on sale Tuesday, details the failure to get a status-of-forces deal that would have allowed a force to remain, and with immunity from prosecution by Iraqis.
"We had leverage," Panetta writes of the negotiations with Iraq's government, led by then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence," Panetta writes.
But with the December 2011 exit date approaching, Panetta writes that to his own "frustration," the White House didn't seem to have its heart in a troop deal with al-Maliki.
The White House "coordinated the negotiations but never really lead them," writes Panetta, adding that "without the Preisdent's active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away."
The last U.S. troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, although some military advisers and Special Forces operatives have returned to coordinate U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and assist Iraqi ground forces.
"To this day," Panetta writes, "I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaida’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country."
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