US Republicans reignited a political feud over Iraq on Thursday, charging that advances by al-Qaeda-linked forces proved US President Barack Obama had squandered American blood in a rush to leave the country.
The accusations by prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill coincided with a furor over a new book by former US secretary of defense Robert Gates, which contained blunt criticisms of the president over the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Renewed skirmishes over Iraq were notable because, by most accounts, Obama has won the US political struggle over the conflict, which he built a political career on opposing.
The president also followed through on a campaign vow to end US involvement in the war, which was launched by the former US president George W. Bush administration in 2003.
However, the president’s critics sensed a chance to dent his national security credentials after the fall to al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists of key cities where US troops faced pitched battles during the war.
US Republican House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps trying to capitalize on the White House’s discomfort over the Gates allegations, took on the president directly over Iraq in his weekly news conference.
“Precious blood was spilled and national treasure was expended helping Iraqis remove a brutal dictator and repelling terrorist elements determined to stamp out human freedom and dignity,” Boehner said. “That progress is now threatened.”
Pivoting from the loss of the city of Fallujah, the scene of bitter fighting involving US forces, Boehner said Obama had “failed to deliver” by not reaching a deal with Iraq to keep a residual force there after all US troops left in 2011.
“We must maintain a long-term commitment to a successful outcome there, and it’s time that the president recognize this and get engaged,” he said.
Boehner said a return of US troops to Iraq — which the administration has ruled out — was “not called for at this point,” but backed the dispatch of military equipment to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
In the US Senate, John McCain, a vehement critic of Obama’s foreign policy, accused the president of wasting the sacrifice of US soldiers killed in Fallujah during fierce battles with insurgents over the course of the nine-year Iraq war.
“What do we tell these young people and their families?” he asked on the Senate floor. “We have to tell them their sacrifice was squandered by an administration that wanted out and didn’t want to remain and consolidate the gains that were made through the sacrifice of American blood and treasure.”
Obama has repeatedly proclaimed he “ended” the Iraq war, despite rising violence in the country that has killed more than 6,200 people over the last year in car bombings, suicide attacks and other violence.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Boehner’s remarks flew in the face of Obama’s popular policy to bring US troops home.
“I know that Speaker Boehner opposed candidate Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq,” Carney said. “I know that. Maybe he still does. Maybe he thinks that American men and women in uniform ought to be fighting today in Anbar Province.”
US Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Boehner’s complaints that Obama was responsible for the fall of Fallujah took “a lot of gall.”
“I wonder if the speaker wants us to send more troops — or wants to send troops into Iraq now?” Reid asked. “They’re home. The American people are glad.”