In his commencement address at West Point, President Obama said this:
For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer.
Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the things Obama celebrates — an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists and that is democratic, sovereign, stable, and self-reliant — would have been unachievable if we had followed the counsel of then Senator Barack Obama, who was among the fiercest and most visible critics of the so-called surge, which turned around the course of the war and has made success there possible.
For the record (which is documented here), on January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And in reaction to the president’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said:
I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum–military and civilian, conservative and liberal–expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.
And as late as July 2007, after it was clear that the surge was working, Obama insisted the opposite. “My assessment is that the surge has not worked,” he said.
I’m delighted Obama was wrong in both his analysis and his predictions and that, unlike so many things since he’s been president, in Iraq he has not made the situation he inherited markedly worse. And perhaps at some point, Mr. Obama — who promised that, unlike past presidents he would be quick to admit the errors of his ways — will admit he was profoundly mistaken about the surge. If he had had his way, after all, the Iraq war would have been lost, mass death and genocide would have engulfed that nation by now, and jihadists would have chalked up their most important victory against America.
It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that a gracious, classy, and large-spirited president would have tipped his cap to his predecessor, whose political courage and wisdom on the surge has made success in Iraq possible. But that would require Obama to act against his basic character.