Islamic insurgents have captured key cities in Iraq this week and threatened to capture Baghdad.
The White House condemned the attacks in a statement late Wednesday and President Obama said Thursday “we do have a stake” in keeping jihadists from making permanent gains in Iraq.
Violence has gripped Iraq since Americans troops completely withdrew in 2011, ending the nine-year war. The pace of the drawdown of troops became an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration’s failure to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the United States to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq. An Iraqi government agreement with the Bush administration lapsed in 2011.
President Obama himself reportedly negotiated to leave up to 10,000 soldiers in the country to continue training and equipping the Iraqi security forces.
The issue of the troop drawdown became an issue between the two campaigns in 2012. In the third presidential debate, Obama attacked Romney, saying, “Just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.”
“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed I believe that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney replied.
In the debate, Obama likewise criticized Romney for calling Russia our “biggest geopolitical” foe.
Here’s the video and transcript of Romney and Obama’s back-and-forth argument over Russia and Iraq:
OBAMA: Gov. Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.
You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq. But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. And the — the challenge we have — I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy — but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn’t be passing nuclear treaties with Russia despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it. You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong, but you were also confusing in sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.
So, what — what we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength, or keeping America safe over the long haul.
SCHIEFFER: I’m going to add a couple of minutes here to give you a chance to respond.
ROMNEY: Well, of course I don’t concur with what the president said about my own record and the things that I’ve said. They don’t happen to be accurate. But — but I can say this, that we’re talking about the Middle East and how to help the Middle East reject the kind of terrorism we’re seeing, and the rising tide of tumult and — and confusion. And — and attacking me is not an agenda. Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East, and take advantage of the opportunity there, and stem the tide of this violence.
But I’ll respond to a couple of things that you mentioned. First of all, Russia I indicated is a geopolitical foe. Not…
ROMNEY: Excuse me. It’s a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same — in the same paragraph I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, I’ll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election, he’ll get more backbone. Number two, with regards to Iraq, you and I agreed I believe that there should be a status of forces agreement.
ROMNEY: Oh you didn’t? You didn’t want a status of…
OBAMA: What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. And that certainly would not help us in the Middle East.
ROMNEY: I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with…
ROMNEY: …that your posture. That was my posture as well. You thought it should have been 5,000 troops…
ROMNEY: … I thought there should have been more troops, but you know what? The answer was we got…
ROMNEY: … no troops through whatsoever.
OBAMA: This was just a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq.
ROMNEY: No, I…
ROMNEY: …I’m sorry that’s a…
OBAMA: You — you…
ROMNEY: …that’s a — I indicated…
OBAMA: …major speech.
ROMNEY: …I indicated that you failed to put in place a status…
ROMNEY: …of forces agreement at the end of the conflict that existed.
OBAMA: Governor — here — here’s — here’s one thing…
OBAMA: …here’s one thing I’ve learned as commander in chief.
SCHIEFFER: Let him answer…
OBAMA: You’ve got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean. You just gave a speech a few weeks ago in which you said we should still have troops in Iraq. That is not a recipe for making sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities and meeting the challenges of the Middle East.
Now, it is absolutely true that we cannot just meet these challenges militarily. And so what I’ve done throughout my presidency and will continue to do is, number one, make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts.
Number two, make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel’s security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.
Number three, we do have to make sure that we’re protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population, not just half of it, is developing.
Number four, we do have to develop their economic — their economic capabilities.
But number five, the other thing that we have to do is recognize that we can’t continue to do nation building in these regions. Part of American leadership is making sure that we’re doing nation building here at home. That will help us maintain the kind of American leadership that we need.
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