Megyn Kelly tonight pressed State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki on the 2011 Iraq troop withdrawal following former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s criticism of the administration for failing to leave a stay-behind force.

In his new memoir, “Worthy Fights,” Panetta blames the White House for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.


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Read background from FoxNews.com:

In them, Panetta explained that Iraqi leaders privately wanted some U.S. forces to stay behind after the formal 2011 withdrawal, though they would not say so publicly. The former secretary, though, said the U.S. had “leverage” to strike a deal, and the Defense and State departments tried to do exactly that.

“But,” he wrote, “the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. … and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”

He said the negotiations with then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went down to the wire in December 2011, but the White House never stepped up.

“To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them,” Panetta charged. “Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away.”


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“Instead of doing what everyone was telling him to do, he pulled us out of there because politically he wanted out of the Middle East,” Megyn Kelly said of President Barack Obama.

“The facts just don’t align with that,” Psaki told Kelly. She said no one would have left the troops there without the protection they needed, and the U.S. couldn’t force Iraq to accept a presence there.

Psaki also said that the administration doesn’t believe residual troops in Iraq would have prevented the rise of ISIS.


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“The growth of ISIL was not just in Iraq, it was in Syria,” Psaki noted.

Kelly also showed Psaki then-President George W. Bush’s 2007 warning on what would happen if troops were withdrawn from Iraq too early and asked, “Wasn’t President Bush exactly right?”

Hear her response in the video above.