U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., contends that a residual U.S. force left in Iraq could have prevented the sectarian violence now ripping the country apart, and he says the blame is shared by Iraqi leaders and President Barack Obama.
“We would have made a big impact if we’d left some people there,’’ Blunt said during a conference call Wednesday with Missouri reporters.
“I firmly believe, as I said at the time, that not leaving some sort of stabilizing force in Iraq would lead to exactly the kind of religious breakdown and infighting that’s occurred.”
Blunt asserted that a big concern for the United States is that an unstable Iraq would become a prime haven for terrorists who could more easily target Europe or the U.S.
Blunt said he feared that the Obama administration was about to make the same mistake in Afghanistan because the president has signaled that all U.S. forces will be out of that country within two years.
Blunt said he hoped Obama was now “rethinking’’ that plan.
In the case of Iraq, Blunt said that Obama “failed to put whatever pressure was necessary” on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to obtain an agreement that would have allowed the appropriate number of American troops “to stay there safely and continue to provide the kind of security and stability” that could have stabilized the country.
(Maliki had refused to sign a commitment that would have barred Iraq from arresting U.S. soldiers and putting them in Iraqi prisons.)
Such a commitment, the senator added, also “would have honored’’ the American families who lost military sons and daughters in Iraq or were caring for those with lifelong injuries.
Blunt said that the top candidates to be Afghanistan’s next leader have both said they would sign such a commitment to keep some U.S. troops in the country, primarily for training purposes.
Keeping a residual force in Iraq and Afghanistan would be in line with previous American actions, Blunt said.
“We’ve had people in Korea since 1950," Blunt said. "We have a residual force that President Bill Clinton left in Bosnia. You haven’t heard much from Bosnia because of that. If we had taken all of our troops out of Bosnia, that sort of ethnic infighting would have continued and we would have had problems there.” (Blunt was apparently referring to NATO peace-keeping troops; no U.S. combat forces were sent to Bosnia.)
U.S. troops who remain in a country “provide training, a stabilizing unit in the country, to provide intelligence services,” Blunt said. “But that doesn’t mean you have an ongoing combat mission, in all likelihood.”
“The lessons to be learned from past successes is that stationing American troops outside the U.S. is not the worst thing that we can do to commit ourselves to a stronger world,” Blunt continued. “When you have strength, you usually don’t have to use it…It’s only when you refuse to show evidence of that strength that you have to use strength.”