Everyone has an opinion on what happens after we pull out US troops but it will soon be time for those who may potentially have to make the decision to speak publically about it. As of right now, we know it is politically unsustainable for Iraqi politicians to ask for an extension on US troop presence. The Sadr Coalition will not have it and their strength in Iraq’s Parliament will make sure they have a strong voice. The Iraqi military has stated they will not be able to defend Iraq from external forces for at least several more years and seem to be the only Iraqi voice publicly in support of renegotiating the SOFA. Sec. Gates has made a late push with PM Malaki to try and change his mind but it is unlikely to change for fear of the domestic poison it would produce. We know that Pres. Obama has pursued the Bush SOFA since taking office and that Gates represents his interests. So as long as he remains in office until 2016, we can be relatively certain that the remaining security work will be done by DoD paid contractors.
But what will Obama’s contenders do (or at least say they'll do) if they win in 2012?
Very few have given their in-depth thoughts on the subject as they wait and see if any last minute changes are made to the SOFA before the last US troops depart. But Donald Trump seems to have other plans. Although he is currently undecided about his run at the Presidency, he did make some very strong statements on Iraq (I know Daniel Drezner at ForeignPolicy.com has already partially covered this story, but I want to look at a few specifics). On Fox’s Sean Hannity Show last week and in interviews with several other media outlets, he stated that “if it’s me, we take the oil” when asked to discuss his vision of Iraq’s future. To further clarify, he stated that the plans are already in place for Iran to invade as soon as we leave, so if we don’t take it with us, the US will miss its opportunity to be compensated for all the work we’ve done in Iraq. There was no reference to troop levels, long term relations, stability, or security. Its just good old fashioned mercantilism at work.
Now my first question is, has anyone (Trump or his staff) looked at how long it would take to remove every drop of oil from Iraq? I at least tried. The Council on Foreign Relations stated in 2003 that Iraq has 112.5 billion barrels of proven reserve, or roughly 10% of the worlds remaining supply. Before the Iraq war, Iraq could produce 3.5 million barrels per day. By 2013, it is projected to rise above 4 million barrels per day. Now production plummeted throughout most of the last decade and is back on track now so current estimates are a little harder to discern, so let’s say Iraq still currently has 107 billion barrels. If we started tomorrow with the Trump plan, at the current rate it would take us 73.3 years to dry up the reserves. Again, my math is likely off, but 10-20 years in either direction still makes the point.
Now I sincerely doubt Trump is advocating a prolonged troop presence well beyond 2013 and the Donald certainly has a checkered history of making regretful statements. But running for Commander-in-Chief is a different world and every statement like that is potentially a future POTUS outlining their foreign policy.
To be fair, Trump did offer a more diplomatic option which was for Iraq to pay the US and its allies back $1.5 trillion for our efforts. I’m not sure if one is more likely than the other, but what is certain is that the Don has enough money to keep his name in the campaign for a long time. What it most likely means is that candidates with sound foreign policy thoughts will spend a great deal of time and money responding to Trump as he ignites some of the more radical citizens among us with these irresponsible remarks rather than discussing likely options for a US role after 2013.