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Obama: Confused Neocon

Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.

But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .

This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .

The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .

And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.

This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.


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