Commentary Magazine


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Why Go?

In a persuasive op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom (which has run ads criticizing Barack Obama for not visiting Iraq or meeting with General Petraeus) makes the case for Obama to visit Iraq. He debunks the argument that one doesn’t learn much on these trips:

Mr. Obama has dismissed the value of such trips, suggesting they are stage-managed productions designated to obfuscate, not illuminate, the truth. This has become an all-too-common sentiment within the Democratic Party leadership, especially since the surge began to transform conditions on the ground for the better. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has denied that there is any value in visiting the troops in Iraq, and has never done so . . .

That Mr. Obama apparently doubts his ability to distinguish spin from reality, and to draw bad news out of subordinates, does not bode well for his possible future as our nation’s chief executive. As I’m sure he will discover, if he wins the White House, these are among the most important skills for a president to possess.

It is, in that regard, even more strange that Obama would not want to meet in private with the Iraq commander and hear his views directly without cameras rolling. The answer is simple: Obama would be asked afterwards what advice he received and whether he believed that the surge was succeeding.

Hegseth observes:

After all, Mr. Obama was among those in January 2007 who stridently opposed the surge and confidently predicted its failure – even going so far as to vote against funding our soldiers in the field unless the Bush administration abandoned this new approach. It is now clear that Mr. Obama’s judgment on the surge was spectacularly wrong.

Yet rather than admit his mistake, Mr. Obama has instead tried to downplay or disparage the gains our troops have achieved in the past 12 months, clinging to a set of talking points that increasingly seem as divorced from reality as some in the Bush administration were at the darkest moments of the war.

Mr. Obama continues to insist that “Iraq’s political leaders have made no progress in resolving the political differences at the heart of their civil war” – despite the passage of numerous pieces of benchmark legislation by the Iraqi Parliament and unequivocal evidence of grassroots reconciliation across the country.

So it would seem that a good way for Obama to escape from the box he is in–denying reality–is to get some “new facts” (lots of people have them but they would be new to him) and annouce he is a different kind of leader who is not afraid to admit mistakes. Isn’t that what he asked of John McCain? Isn’t that central to New Politics?