Veering away from the economy and other domestic issues that have been their chief focus, the GOP presidential contenders today blasted a slated Dec. 31 pull-out of all but 150 U.S. troops from Iraq as a capitulation to the Iraqi government that imperils the still tenuous region.
With the timeline for withdrawal partly shaped, according to the Associated Press, by the Iraqi government's refusal to shield any remaining U.S. troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts, Michele Bachmann said today, that the Iraqis "disrespected" the very country that had overthrown their former dictator, Saddam Hussein.
She equated the coming pull-out with being "kicked out," and said Iraq should repay the United States the $700 billion it has spent waging war there.
"They're not a poor country. They're a wealthy country," the Minnesota congresswoman said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I think that they need to do that, because what we will be leaving behind is a nation that is very fragile and will be subject to dominance by Iran and their influence in the region," she said. "That's not good."
"It's going to leave a big vacuum in Iraq," former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, also angling to become Obama's 2012 Republican challenger, said on "Face the Nation."
"We've lost the battle in Iraq with the Iraqi government," former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said on "Face the Nation." "We've lost this sphere of influence that we had."
Dismissing the GOP attack as disingenuous, Secretary of State Clinton countered on ABC's "This Week With Christiane Amanpour" that the withdrawal deadline was set before President Obama took office.
"Remember that it was President Bush who set the timetable in motion by agreeing with the Iraqis that all troops would be out by the end of this year," she said. "And, of course, President Obama promised the American people that the troops would be out by the end of this year."
Despite the Republicans' accusations that the United States would be abandoning Iraq and leaving the door open for Iran to wield its influence there, Clinton said there would still be a strong U.S. presence in the region, and dialogue and support for Iraq would not end.
"But we're always open to discussing with partner countries what their needs are," she said. "And as you know, we have a lot of presence in that region. So, no, we're not going to have bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere. ... So we're going to be present in Iraq, supporting the Iraqis, and continually discussing with them what their needs are. And no one should miscalculate our commitment to Iraq, most particularly Iran."
She likened any potential post-withdrawal instability in Iraq with what happened in other nations, including Colombia and Jordan, where the United States provided years of military training and support after troops were pulled out.
"We know that the violence is not going to automatically end, but President Obama has shown great leadership in navigating to this point, fulfilling his promise, meeting the obligations that were entered into before he ever came into office," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Clinton was weighing in on Iraq as she wound down a weeklong tour of Pakistan, Aghanistan, Uzbekistan and of Libya, largely aimed at clamping down on terrorism.