Commentary Magazine


That War, You Didn’t End That

Presenting his nominee for secretary of defense yesterday, President Obama began with a self-congratulatory assessment of his own national security record, asserting he had protected American security “by ending the war in Iraq, and beginning a transition in Afghanistan.”

As Bret Stephens notes in the Wall Street Journal, it was President Bush whose surge in Iraq (against the advice of Senators Obama, Kerry and Hagel) ended that war, and whose status of forces agreement with Iraq could have led to a long-term U.S. security relationship, had President Obama not fumbled it. In Afghanistan, Obama approved a 3/4 surge, announcing it with a speech setting a time limit and asserting the country he really wanted to build was his own. He will “transition” next year without a victory. In that regard, it may be useful to recall President Bush’s December 1, 2008 interview with Charlie Gibson:

GIBSON: Was there a time [during your presidency] when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles –

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: — some decision where you really thought that that was at issue?

BUSH: Yes.


BUSH: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or — and rather than listen to — I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.

As Iran watches the Obama-Kerry-Hagel triumvirate assume control of American foreign policy, the signal is unmistakable. You don’t nominate a person to head the American military who says he is still haunted by Vietnam, said the effort in Afghanistan was “not sustainable at all,” opposed the effort to win the Iraq War, wants to negotiate with Iran’s ally in Gaza, and is proud of his ability to resist the “Jewish Lobby,” without realizing the signal it sends–particularly when you couple it with a nomination for secretary of state of someone similarly haunted (and known more recently for his continual attempts to engage Bashar al-Assad). It is as clear as a presidential pat on the knee.