WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that the United States will maintain a strong military interest in Iraq after the last combat troops leave this year, and she warned Iran not to try and take advantage of the pullout.
On television talk shows Sunday morning, Clinton said that no one, especially Iran, should underestimate America’s commitment to preserve the hard-fought gains of the past eight years.
“We have a lot of presence in that region,” Clinton said on CNN.
“No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our commitment … to the Iraqis.”
After a week during which Moammar Gadhafi was killed, the U.S. also vowed partnership with the Libyan people as they build a new society, one that U.S. officials insist should begin with investigations into Gadhafi’s death and with the imprisonment of the convicted Lockerbie bomber who is living free in Libya.
With Libya’s Transitional National Council putting together a new government, Clinton conveyed those requests while visiting Libya and elsewhere in the region last week.
As the U.S. reduces its presence in one country and turns its attention to reconstruction of another, the Obama administration is trying to promote security and the rule of law over strong local and regional interests.
Republicans question whether the departure of the remaining 40,000 American troops from Iraq by year-end serves those goals, especially given recent threats by the Iranian president to get involved in the training of Iraqi troops.
Though the U.S. departure announced by President Barack Obama is in keeping with a schedule set by the George W. Bush administration, Republican critics say the president is opening the door to Iranian involvement.
The withdrawal is a “serious mistake,” Sen. John McCain said on ABC’s “This Week,” and is “viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians.”
“Once the military is gone, embassy personnel will be targets,” McCain said. “The fact that we have other bases in the region would have very little impact on Iraq itself.”
But Clinton strongly suggested that the U.S. will maintain a military presence in the region, and a willingness to respond to any Iranian threat.
“Iran should look at the region,” Clinton said on NBC. “We may not be leaving military bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere. We have support and training assets elsewhere. We have a NATO ally in Turkey. … I don’t think anyone should be mistaken about America’s commitment to the new democracy in Iraq that we have sacrificed so much to help them achieve.”