Sticking to the Iraq pullout is about the only good thing I can think of that Obama’s done, domestic or foreign policy-wise. But let’s see how it all plays out. Juan Cole:
But Obama’s biggest practical foreign policy success has been in keeping to his withdrawal timetable in Iraq. Most observers have paid too little attention to this, among his most important decisions. When he became president, his top generals, including Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, reportedly came to him and attempted to convince him to modify the withdrawal timeline adopted by the Iraqi parliament as part of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated shortly before he took office. They did not want US troops to cease patrolling independently in mid-June 2009. They did not want to get all combat troops out by summer 2010. They wanted to finesse the agreement. Reclassify combat troops under some other heading, they said.
Overturning the SOFA or dragging Washington’s feet about it would have produced rage in Baghdad. It had the potential for undermining the government of PM Nouri al-Maliki, and for reinvigorating both Sunni Arab extremists and Shiite radical movements such as the Mahdi Army. It would have made other Arab regimes suspicious of US motives. It would have been a mistake as epochal as the Bush administration’s decision to build up a heavy US military footprint in Afghanistan, which restarted the war there and provoked a major insurgency that continues to this day. In Iraq, a country crawling with armed, nationalistically minded groups and dotted with arms depots, such a move would have been a catastrophe. Obama did the right thing. He overruled his generals and began returning to Iraq its sovereignty.
This issue is important regionally because polling shows that Arab publics say that ending the US military presence in Iraq is the single most important thing the US could do to improve its relations with that region. What they saw as US atrocities in Iraq motivated many of the terrorists active after 2003. Ending the US military role there will bring a sea change. (Only 4% of Arabs say that they are exercised by the issue of Afghanistan, so that is not the same thing in their eyes).