Are America's hawks suffering from empty nest syndrome?
That was the position outlined by the estimable foreign policy analyst and "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart. In a segment marking President Obama's decision to pull nearly all the remaining 39,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, Stewart wondered aloud about what would become of America's more confrontation-minded policy hands. The decision honors the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by former President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Stewart notes, but it's now drawing plenty of flak from the 2012 GOP presidential field:
Apart from the partisan pile-ons, it's clear that the Obama administration is concerned about courting the impression that a U.S. pullout from Iraq would leave a critical opening for Iran to fill in the region--or that the United States would look to be retreating from Iraq under Iranian pressure. With that in mind, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have stressed America's still considerable military footprint and firepower in the Persian Gulf region over the weekend, as the Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported Monday. (And even in the wake of the major troop withdrawal in Iraq, America will still make up a significant detachment of security personnel in the country; a few hundred troops may stay on as part of the newly established Office of Security cooperation, and several thousand U.S. government civilian personnel and contractors will continue to perform security work throughout the country.)
Panetta notes that the United States has some 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in and around the Persian Gulf--"23,000 American troops in Kuwait, 7,500 in Qatar, 5,000 in Bahrain and nearly 3,000 in the United Arab Emirates," Pincus wrote, citing the Defense Secretary's figures. And of course, there are still some 100,000 troops stationed on the other side of Iran in Afghanistan.
"We will always have a force that will be present and that will deal with any threats from Iran," Panetta said Sunday in Bali, Pincus reported.
"So no one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward," Clinton said on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, Pincus wrote. "We have bases in neighboring countries, we have our NATO ally in Turkey, we have a lot of presence in that region."
Meanwhile, newly installed CIA Director David Petraeus, the former U.S. Army commander credited with helping turn the Iraq insurgency around, will also play a larger role in leading covert counterterrorism operations in Iraq formerly performed by the military, Newsweek's Eli Lake reports Tuesday.
"There are of course parts of the counterterrorism mission [in Iraq] that the intelligence community, including CIA, will be able to take on from other organizations—and there are parts of that mission that it won't," one U.S. counterterrorism official who requested anonymity told Lake.
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- Jon Stewart