Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.
He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.
In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.
At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.