Lest anybody forget (and how short and fickle is memory?), the United States didn't so much withdraw from Iraq as get booted out when the Obama administration insisted that American troops were above the law — local law, that is.That may sound downright churlish to folks here at home, but many Iraqis held the peculiar belief that U.S. military personnel, when they behave badly in that country, should be held accountable in that country. That's not an unusual position — the Japanese hold to it over the conduct of American troops on Okinawa, for instance. And now the issue of immunity from local law looks like the factor behind the accelerating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Regarding our departure from Iraq, so often touted as an Obama administration success, CBS News wrote in 2011:
President Obama pulled the plug Friday on negotiations that would have kept American troops in Iraq past the end of this year. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports the president's demand for immunity for U.S. troops stationed there was the dealbreaker.
… scarred by scandals like the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the killings — both accidental and deliberate — of civilians, and incidents with security contractors like the Blackwater guards who gunned down people in a public square, Iraqi politicians refused to grant American troops immunity from prosecution under local laws.
So, the U.S. withdrew from Iraq in an "I've been thrown out of better joints than this," sense.
Now the Christian Science Monitor tells us of Afghanistan:
A diplomatic dance has commenced between the US and Afghanistan over a US request for legal immunity that would enable a contingent of American troops to stay on beyond 2014.
Failure to agree on an immunity deal in Iraq ensured that US forces pulled out completely by the end of 2011, further diminishing American influence there despite toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 and fighting a bloody counterinsurgency to backstop the governments that followed. Now, observers are watching to see how Afghanistan will handle the issue, which would determine just how many soldiers stay past a 2014 deadline for withdrawal of combat troops.
Legal immunity? But why would that be an issue in Afghanistan? Oh, that's right. Sometimes U.S. troops behave very badly, indeed. Of course, most military personnel are perfectly able to refrain from rape or murder sprees, but that sort of thing does get the locals upset. And they're not always happy with assurances that the offenders' employers will make everything all right thousands of miles away, out of view.
In fact, people in Afghanistan may really be getting tired of our presence. Reports the Washington Post:
Top Afghan officials said Obama's pledge last week to remove U.S. troops from Afghan villages should apply to Special Operations forces charged with training the Afghan Local Police. But U.S. officials said they assumed that the policy would apply only to traditional military operations and would include an exemption for the police trainers, whose mission they see as critical to security throughout Afghanistan.
Hey, it's tough out there for an imperial power.