November 15th, 2011
03:58 PM ET

Panetta and Senators clash over Iraq

By CNN Senior National Security Producer Charley Keyes

Deep disagreements surfaced on Capitol Hill Tuesday over whether the United States has moved too quickly to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The Obama administration will withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of the year, after negotiations with Iraq broke down last month over leaving behind a small force for training and security. Some 30,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq now, and only a small number of U.S. military will remain behind, attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said the failure to revise the withdrawal timetable and leave a small U.S. force behind is what he called a sad example of political expediency supplanting military necessity.

"It will have serious negative consequences for the stability of Iraq and the national security interests of the United States," McCain said.

And McCain said the withdrawal will hurt Iraq and benefit its long-time regional rival. "It is hard to see the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as anything but a win for Iran," he said.

The withdrawal schedule originally was agreed to by the Bush administration.

McCain was speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to hear from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Panetta said Iraq can stand on its own, cope with extremist violence and internal political divisions as well as next-door Iran.

"To be sure, Iraq faces a host of remaining challenges, but I believe Iraq is equipped to deal with them," Panetta told the committee.

"This outcome was never certain, especially during the war's darkest days," Panetta said. "It is a testament to the strength and resilience of our troops that we helped the Iraqi people reverse a desperate situation and provided them the time and space to foster the institutions of representative government."

McCain and Panetta clashed directly over whether the United States had really tried to negotiate, with specific numbers and a detailed description of the mission, to provide a small residual force beyond December 31 with the necessary legal immunity.

McCain claimed the Obama administration had failed to negotiate in good faith and was instead committed to complete withdrawal.

"The truth is that this administration was committed to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops form Iraq and they made it happen,' McCain said.

"Senator McCain, that simply is not true," Panetta said.

"Your version of history and mine are very different," McCain told Panetta after that
particularly sharp exchange.

Dempsey took a more cautious tact in describing Iraq's ability to function. "In anticipation of the question about whether I'm concerned about the future of Iraq-the answer is yes," Dempsey said.

McCain asked Dempsey whether there were any U.S. military commanders in favor of full withdrawal. "No, senator, none of us recommended that we completely withdraw from Iraq," Dempsey replied.

Panetta did not rule out that negotiations with Iraq about a small U.S. force could resume later.

One consequence of the U.S. military withdrawal is that the U.S. State Department will require some 16,000 private contractors to provide security and other services, like transportation and medical evacuation, that had been provided by the Pentagon.

"No question there are risks involved here," Panetta said about such a large, unprecedented reliance on contractors.

"Are there going to be risks associated with contractor? Yes," Panetta said. "Do we have any other alternatives? No."

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Filed under: Congress • Foreign Policy • Iran • Iraq • McCain • Military • Panetta • Panetta • Pentagon • Secretary of Defense
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. mattymays

    hi xmas greetings to every one – matty mays

    December 21, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  2. Rubin Mays

    lWhen it comes down to these wars, we are forgetting that thousands of young lives were lost based apon a lie from the Bush admin. Republicans wanted some of the credit when Bin Laden was killed, none took the responsibilty for being in office when 911 happen. If you want credit then take responsibilty for allow the greatest attack on American to happen.

    ps If Obama was in office on 911 who would have been blame?

    November 16, 2011 at 2:42 am | Reply
    • John

      "ps If Obama was in office on 911 who would have been blame?"
      umm, Osama Bin Laden.. Duh... who do YOU think was to blame?

      November 16, 2011 at 5:31 am | Reply
      • Rubin Mays

        My statement about blame was directed toward the two political parties that no matter what happens its the others fault. Or when a member of a party does well, they will not receive the credit that is due them.
        John that was my point, yes Bin Laden is to blame even more reason to unite as parties to defend and destroy this type of evil.

        November 16, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  3. helenecha

    Yes, the truth is that Obama administration was committed to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and they made it happen.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:36 am | Reply
  4. george of the jungle

    true this was set up by bush. If they can't grant immunity to our troops we need to br out. Mc Caine and the repo party will wage war forever if you let them. Thats their answer to all our foreign policy wage war. If left unchecked we will be at war all over the globe.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  5. Dan5404

    Republicans have a great grasp on things. Invade a country on two faulty presumptions that Hussein instigated 9/ll and that he had WMD's. Then say that Obama was just doing what their party had already negotiated as to ending the war. But wait, the freely elected government of Iraq (that Bush wanted) would not agree to a residual force unless our soldiers are subject to Iraq's legal system. Obama and the military negotiated to no avail and decided to withdraw. So now, the GOP wants us to just force a soverein nation again with military force to accept troops past the deadline. the Republican spinning should be making them nauseous. It is for the rest of us. This is not the old West and the good guy didn't get the girl. Face facts.

    First the GOP starts a war on two false presumption, costing nearly a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, then when Obama keeps his promise to end the war, they say it's all part of W's plan and Obama gets no credit. Then, when Iraq insists on American soldiers being subject to their judicial system and Obama refuses to do that, and withdrew, they say we should just stay anyway, despite a decision by a sovereign, freely elected government that Bush wanted in the first place. The spinning should be making them nauseous, it is for the rest of us.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Reply
    • Dan5404

      Sorry for the redundant paragraphs, had a computer glitch.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Reply
    • SiriusVH

      Excellent summary ....

      November 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  6. T Webb

    What McCain fail to mention, the handover of Iraq to Iran began with the invasion. Iran had enemies on both sides Iraq on one side and Afghanistan on the other. There were constant war/conflicts between the three, so Bush decides if we take out both enemies we can establish bases in both to contend with Iran and make a US presence in the region. The plan was a bust in more ways than one. Now you people on the right blame Obama on how he cleans up another Bush mess!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  7. jerry

    no Bush set this up for a negotiated pull that is responsible and that honors the sacrfice America made in lives and capital. This is another obama atrocty...only the dumb or blind would not call a spade a spade here.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • CreatorOfMan

      Who you calling spade, Teabigot!?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  8. jerry

    Panetta is an old Clinton lackey. He has nothing in his resume' that would indicate he is Sec of Defense material. Yes Mccain, this administration is leaving Iraq to Iran...and they know it! Just as they knew Egypt and Lybia would fall to the extreamists...does anyone really notice a common thread here in obama policy? Don't forget obama has made it very very clear how he feels about Israel (not much reporting here either). God help America.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • arduck

      so who do you serve and what's in your resume?

      November 16, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply
  9. Goodguy1

    This is the Bush timetable for withdrawal. Nuff said on that. McCain is way out line.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
    • arduck


      November 16, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply

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