Peter, I agree. Whatever gains Barack Obama made by fuzzying up the difference between his timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troop and an acceptable framework from the point of our military experts and the Iraqis may have been forfeited in an extraordinary interview with Terry Moran of ABC. Obama now has two major problems: he has admitted that he still wouldn’t have supported the surge which indisputably has worked AND he let on that he doesn’t much care what General Petraeus has to say.
On the first, there was this exchange:
Moran: “‘[T]he surge of U.S. troops, combined with ordinary Iraqis’ rejection of both al Qaeda and Shiite extremists have transformed the country. Attacks are down more than 80% nationwide. U.S. combat casualties have plummeted, five this month so far, compared with 78 last July, and Baghdad has a pulse again.’ If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you — would you support the surge?” Obama: “No, because — keep in mind that -” Moran: “You wouldn’t?” Obama: “Well, no, keep — these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult . Hindsight is 20/20. I think what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate, because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.” Moran: “And so, when pressed, Barack Obama says he still would have opposed the surge.”
On his disagreement and disregard for Petraeus’ viewpoint:
ABC’s Terry Moran: “And then we sat down with [Barack Obama] to talk about what has become an open disagreement between military commanders here and Obama, over his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a 16-month timetable. Did General Petraeus talk about military concerns about your timetable?”
Barack Obama: “You know, I would characterize the concerns differently. I don’t think that they’re deep concerns about the notion of a pullout per se. There are deep concerns about, from their perspective, a timetable that doesn’t take into account what they anticipate might be some sort of changing conditions. And this is what I mean when I say we play different roles. My job is to think about the national security interests as a whole, and to have to weigh and balance risks, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Their job is just to get the job done here. And I completely understand that.”
Moran: “But the difference is real. Commanders here want withdrawals to be based on conditions on the ground. Obama emphasizes his timetable, but he insists he would remain flexible. I’m going to try to pin you down on this ”
Obama: “Here let me say this, though, Terry, because, you know, what I will refuse to do, and I think that, you know ”
Moran: “How do you know what I’m going to ask?”
Obama: “Well, then if I don’t get it right, then you can ask it again.”
Moran: “All right.”
Obama: “Is to get boxed in into what I consider two false choices, which is either I have a rigid timeline of such and such a date, come hell or high water, we’ve gotten our combat troops out, and I am blind to anything that happens in the intervening six months or 16 months. Or, alternatively, I am completely deferring to whatever the commanders on the ground says, which is what George Bush says he’s doing, in which case I’m not doing my job as commander-in-chief.”
Where to begin? As to the first point, Obama appears to be so stubborn or so attached to his netroot followers that even now, after seeing Iraq for himself, after all available evidence points to the success of the surge (e.g. the rescue of the potential for victory from certain chaos and defeat, the rebuilding of Iraqi society, the damage inflicted on Al Qaeda) he still would have opposed it. But why? Are failure, chaos, and defeat so desirable? It is incomprehensible. And one wonders if Lee Hamilton agrees. (And even more oddly Obama concedes that there has been progress there so he has dropped the fiction that the surge’s gains are illusory.) He has in essence said, “I wish we hadn’t won.” (Or “I wish we weren’t winning.”)
As to the second, his entire demeanor comes across as unbridled arrogance, but his answer is somewhat unintelligible frankly. Is his timeframe fixed or not-fixed? You really can’t be in favor of both. The successful commander of our U.S. forces in Iraq and the architect of our potential victory has told him his plan is unworkable and/or dangerous. His response? A muddle, but he sure isn’t deferring to the military experts. Does he have one of his own gurus who will attest to the lack of danger which Petraeus believes would exist in sticking to a time-certain schedule? Or maybe the facts really are irrelevant.
How will all this play? It depends if the American people, after learning of the surge’s great success and the brilliance of our commander there, find it troubling that the candidate with no national security experience would throw it all away and disregard knowledgeable advice. It is peculiar in the extreme to have a nominee who when presented with potential victory says ” I wouldn’t have tried to win.” One can imagine that a victory he would not himself have pursued himself (and is apparently sorry we did) is one he has little interest in securing. Hence, his light regard for the advice of Petraeus.
The McCain camp must be celebrating. They have finally gotten lucky.