State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday night that President George W. Bush would not have been able to reach a deal with Iraq to leave a sufficient U.S. force in that country that might have stopped the Islamic State's rise to power.
Republicans have sharply criticized President Barack Obama for failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq, a failure they say gave the Islamic State to take over large portions of both Iraq and Syria.
Obama responded in August by saying the decision to remove U.S. troops was not his, and instead was the result of Iraq's opposition to leaving U.S. forces in the country. Republicans have said Obama didn't try hard enough and in fact opposed leaving any troops, a charge that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta supported in his new book.
But on Thursday night, Psaki rejected that idea and said it was Iraq's opposition that forced U.S. troops to leave. Psaki went further by saying even the Bush administration would not have been able to reach a deal with Iraq.
"[I]t's hard for me to believe that President Bush would have… left troops in Iraq without the protections they needed," she said on Fox's The Kelly File. "It's hard for me to believe that he would have been able to convince the Iraqi government to have a presence there when they clearly didn't want to have one there."
Psaki faced more questions about the issue on Friday, and repeated that it was the Iraqis who wanted U.S. troops out, even after the administration "elevated" the issue to Vice President Joe Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The vice president of the United States, who is higher ranking that the secretary of State, had the Iraq portfolio and ran point on Iraq," she said. "But we knew we couldn't force the Iraqi government, a sovereign country, to agree to that. They didn't."
"We could not force the Iraqi government to agree to have a troop presence… when they did not want to have a troop presence there," she added.