Considered by both Republicans and Democrats as one of the most respected men inside the Washington, DC beltway, former Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Leon Panetta has placed the blame on Iraq teetering on the edge of falling to the al-Qaeda allied ISIS terrorist organization directly at the feet of Barack Obama. As reported by The Wall Street Journal and also by the NewsMax.com news portal, both on Oct. 2, 2014, not only in published passages in his forthcoming memoir, “Worthy Fights,” but also in televised interviews, Panetta paints a picture of two separate factions within the Obama Administration prior to the 2011 total and complete withdrawal of American combat troops – Panetta’s camp wanting to leave a residual force – the “President’s team” essentially wanting to leave Iraq in the rear view mirror just as fast as possible.
Dropping a bit of a bombshell himself, Panetta penned “To this day 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.” At the time of the Obama ordered removal of all troops, Panetta found that a number of Flag Officers (Generals and Admirals from all Branches of the Armed Forces) agreeing with the then SecDef that a small residual (10,000 – 15,000) would have been an effective force deterrent to any resurgent ISIS or al-Qaeda in Iraq armed force. By comparison, American troops stationed in Japan are normally around the 39,000 to 40,000 range; while the amount of American troops in Germany are normally upwards of 55,000.
Panetta notes his frustration with Obama for never putting forth any real effort with Iraqi former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when it came to securing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) if a residual peacekeeping force were ever to see the light of day. Panetta made note of those in his camp looked upon Team Obama as those who were “eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
Arguably the most damning charge offered up by Panetta was his relating that “we had leverage” to force Maliki to grant legal protections to American troops assigned as a anti-terrorist force “such as withdrawing reconstruction aid.” However, “the White House refused to use it: ‘My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.'”
Other than being the SecDef in the Obama Administration, Panetta was also the Director of the CIA; Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff; Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton years; a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-1993. Panetta also served in the U.S. Army as a Military Intelligence Officer during the 1960s.