Greg Scoblete tries to make sense of Romney’s criticism of the withdrawal from Iraq:

But those deals broke down because the Iraqi government refused to provide immunity for U.S. troops that remained in the country. So Romney is essentially saying that the administration should have found a clever way to subvert the wishes of the Iraqi government and impose U.S. troops on Iraq on American terms. That’s not a charge someone who is constantly championing “American values” wants to make all that loudly, is it?

On the withdrawal itself, Romney’s attack doesn’t make much sense. Romney exaggerates the influence that a continued U.S. presence would give Washington, and he overestimates the ability of U.S. forces to prevent Iran from using its relationship with Baghdad to provide support to Assad. As usual, the people who favored deposing the old Iraqi regime and removing one of the main checks on Iranian influence are now deeply distressed there is an Iraqi government willing to cooperate with Iran. The conduct of Maliki’s government is a perfect example of what the U.S. can and should always expect even from those leaders that the U.S. helped bring to power.

As all political actors do, these leaders are going to act in their own interests, and they are going to cultivate stronger ties with their immediate neighbors whether their former or would-be patrons like it or not. Clients and quasi-clients can always turn to other patrons as it suits them. As Nikolas Gvosdev mentioned in his latest column, this accounts for increased Russian-Iraqi relations:

A number of Middle Eastern leaders — including even Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, who have no worries that their strategic lifeline to the United States is ever in jeopardy — saw closer ties with Russia as a way to push back against U.S. demands. Maliki’s recent visit to Moscow is the latest example of this dynamic. His weapons deal with Russia is due, in part, to growing American criticisms of the way he has been governing Iraq, including his penchant for authoritarian methods and his relations with Iran and Syria.

Romney’s view of the situation depends on believing that the Iraqi government had and has no other options if the U.S. tried to dictate terms to it. The standard Romney campaign argument is that sufficient “leadership” and “strength” from the U.S. will produce desirable outcomes. As Romney said earlier this year, “it is resolve that moves events in our direction.” The behavior of the Iraqi government shows that it will respond to greater U.S. pressure by developing closer relationships with other states and ignoring U.S. pressure.

The more troubling aspect of criticizing U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is what it tells us about how Romney sees post-invasion Iraq. Maintaining a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq would not do much of anything to stabilize or secure the country, but it would have kept a large number of American soldiers in Iraq as potential targets for attack. Especially because U.S. forces would be seen as remaining in Iraq against the wishes of the vast majority of Iraqis and in spite of the preferences of the Iraqi government, their presence could have very easily provoked new insurgencies and produced additional, needless American and Iraqi casualties. That was clear in the months leading up to the withdrawal, but it has somehow been forgotten in the last year. Attacking the withdrawal from Iraq as a mistake is to say that Americans should have continued risking their lives for the sake of nebulous influence in Iraq that likely would have had no positive effect on events in Iraq or Syria.