Senator Obama’s speech on Tuesday in St. Paul, when he finally locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, was typical: rhetorically powerful, well-delivered, with some clever and well-constructed lines. But when you examine the substance of what he said, the speech breaks down. Some of his claims are questionable and misleading; others are ill-informed; and still others border on being intellectually dishonest. Obama’s statement on Iraq are particularly revealing.
According to Obama:
I won’t stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq.
In fact, Obama doesn’t have to “pretend” there are many good options left in Iraq. There is one obvious good option: to continue policies that are manifestly succeeding and qualify as one of the most impressive military turnabouts in our history. According to yesterday’s operational update by Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner,
For the third week in a row security incidents in Iraq are at the lowest levels in four years. These numbers reflect fewer attacks on Iraqi civilians, fewer attacks on Iraqi and Coalition Forces, and fewer attacks on the Government’s infrastructure. These security gains follow the coordinated offensive operations over the past year, and the recent security operations in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra.
The security progress we’ve making is now translating into encouraging progress on the political and economic fronts as well. There is no question, then, that Iraq, which remains in many ways a broken and splintered country, has made enormous strides. It is virtually beyond dispute that the “surge” strategy endorsed by President Bush (and opposed by Senator Obama) is working, and working better and faster than anyone could have imagined just a year ago.
In his speech Obama also stated:
We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in – but start leaving we must.
Keep in mind that in his February 2007 speech announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama declared, “It’s time to start bringing our troops home. That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.” In May, Obama voted against funding for combat operations. And in September, a mere three months after the final elements of the 30,000-strong surge forces had landed in Iraq, he declared that the moment had arrived to remove all of our combat troops “immediately.” “Not in six months or one year–now.”
Obama’s position, then, is the embodiment of carelessness in “getting out of Iraq,” and if he had his way, the progress we have seen would not have come to pass and Iraq would almost certainly be in a death spiral rather than on the (long and difficult) road to recovery.
As for Obama’s statement that “start leaving we must”: perhaps Obama is unaware that when he testified before the Congress two months ago, General Petraeus announced that he was recommending that we withdraw five brigade combat teams (more than a quarter of our total number of combat troops) from Iraq – or that this week, the fourth of five Brigade Combat Teams are returning home, including two Marine battalions and a Marine Expeditionary Unit which have already returned home.
Senator Obama also said this on Tuesday:
It’s time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future.
Perhaps Senator Obama is unaware of that, in the words of the New York Times (from May 12), “Basra has been transformed by its own surge . . . forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militia.” The principal factor for the success we’ve seen in Basra is the deployment of 33,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces. And while we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqis in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraq planned, led and executed,” according to the U.S. military.
Perhaps Senator Obama is unaware, too, of the progress that’s been made in Sadr City. On May 21 the New York Times put it this way:
Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.
It’s also likely, I suppose, that Senator Obama is unaware of the progress that’s being made in Mosul, the last urban bastion of al Qaeda in Iraq. According to the Times
The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities.
Senator Obama also appears to be wholly unaware of the political reconciliation and legislative progress we’ve seen in recent months, including the Iraqi parliament passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.
Also in his speech, Senator Obama said:
It’s time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda’s leadership
Perhaps during his busy campaigning Obama isn’t aware of the fact that al Qaeda is in the process of losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic and Arab world. Beginning late last year key figures in the jihadist movement–including Sheikh Abd Al-‘Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia; Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom bin Laden once lionized; and Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr. Fadl”), once a mentor to Ayman al-Zawahiri and a legend within the global jihadist movement– turned against al Qaeda and their brutal tactics.
In addition, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, in a meeting with the Washington Post last week, portrayed al Qaeda as badly weakened in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive in much of the rest of the world. Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been destabilized and it has lost its ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated,” the ever-cautious U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said on Saturday, “but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.”
We know, too, that according to a report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere [are] rejecting Islamic extremism.” We are also seeing large drops in support for Osama bin Laden.
The idea that we would hurt al Qaeda by losing in Iraq, which would be the outcome of Obama’s policy, is profoundly confused and, if it were to be implemented, terribly dangerous.
Senator Obama’s statements on Iraq are representative of his larger weaknesses. If you strip away the eloquence, charm, and political skills and drill down on the substance, Obama is, especially when it comes to Iraq, misinformed and seemingly out of his depth. He continued to make claims that are demonstrably wrong–and perhaps the media, many of whom are utterly enchanted with the Obama candidacy, will begin to hone in on how out of touch with reality he is. We are, after all, electing a president and not a high school prom king. Obama’s lack of knowledge on issues like Iraq should matter more than his ability to excite a crowd and charm reporters. And his steadfast refusal to alter his views based on new, and in this instance encouraging, evidence is more evidence of the enormous gap that exists between who Obama is and how he presents himself to be. On Iraq, Barack Obama is in a state of denial.