Colin Kahl, according to his little bio on his Politico op-ed, “is an associate professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program…. From February 2009 to December 2011, he was the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.” In other words, during the time Joe Biden was hailing Iraq as some sort of success story for Barack Obama, Colin Kahl was one of the major political appointees in charge.
With Iraq deteriorating and Americans evacuating, it is the natural response of the political appointee to run to a Washington publication and pen a CYA op-ed explaining why he is not to blame for the problems. What is so striking is that Kahl’s opinion piece comes at the same time as Dexter Filkins’ fact based article about Iraq.
Kahl writes, in part,
part of the difficulty in securing an agreement in 2011 stemmed from perceived “success.” Violence levels were down and, unlike 2008, Iraqi politicians in 2011 believed that Iraqi security forces were now numerous and capable enough to keep insurgents at bay. So they were simply not as desperate for us to stick around as they were in 2008.
But as Matt Lewis noted from Dexter Filkins’ NPR interview,
every single senior political leader, no matter what party or what group, including Maliki, said to them privately, we want you to stay. We don’t want you to fight. We don’t want combat troops. We don’t want Americans getting killed, but we want 10,000 American troops inside the Green Zone training our army, giving us intelligence, playing that crucial role as the broker and interlocutor that makes our system work. We want you to stay. In public they said very different things because at that point, you know, after nine years, the Americans were not very popular and the Iraqi politicians had all made names for themselves bashing the Americans.
Honestly, if you read Colin Kahl’s damage control and read Dexter Filkins’ piece, there is an obvious disconnect. The Kahl piece seems to take the public blustering of Iraqi officials at their word and focus on the use of the American military as a tool for war in Iraq. The Filkins’ piece seems to rely more on the private statements of Iraqi officials to their American counterparts and their desire not for a fighting machine, but a near permanent presence like in Korea that provides training and support to Iraqis.
Kahl writes that “The notion that a post-2011 presence of 5,000 U.S. troops, or even 20,000, would have solved [Iraq and Maliki’s] political challenges is magical thinking.” But that’s not really what the Iraqis wanted the troops for.