Last year, after President Obama announced the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq, he invited Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to the White House and told him: “Mr. Prime Minister, as we end this war, and as Iraq faces its future, the Iraqi people must know that you will not stand alone. You have a strong and enduring partner in the United States of America.”
Citing the “untold number of Iraqis who’ve given their lives” as well as the “nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion” Obama declared “we owe it to every single one of them—we have a moral obligation to all of them—to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.” Obama promised that America would be a “partner for our shared security” and that as a central part of this effort his administration would “help Iraq train and equip its forces.”
What a difference five months makes.
The New York Times reported Sunday:
In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal….
The Times reports that the training sessions were so bad that Iraqis refused to attend them. Moreover, with all U.S. forces withdrawn, the State Department would not let trainers hold sessions at Iraqi facilities, rather than American ones, because of security concerns.
Robert M. Perito, director of the Security Sector Governance Center of Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace, called the project a “small program for a lot of money.”
“The first problem is the State Department doesn’t operate in dangerous environments,” said Mr. Perito, who last year wrote a history of United States police training in Iraq. “As soon as the U.S. military left, the State Department was on its own. And that immediately ran the price up and restricted the ability of advisers to move around.”
The State Department is also scaling back its overall presence in Iraq:
Last year, in preparation for the withdrawal of the military, the State Department planned a large expansion of its role here, designed to maintain influence and be a counterweight to the vast political influence of Iran. Yet, after doubling the size of the embassy staff to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors, the State Department quickly reversed course this year — partly because of Iraqi objections to the expanded operation — and is now cutting back from the slightly more than 12,000 people presently in Iraq.
Bottom line: The centerpiece of America’s post-war engagement strategy in Iraq is being abandoned—and the American retreat from Iraq continues apace.