There is a certain bitter irony for the McCain campaign regarding Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders having publicly agreed with Barack Obama’s call for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2010. It has lent an enormous political assist to the man (Obama) who, if he had his way, would have allowed Iraq to die, and dealt a huge setback to the man (McCain) who fought courageously and successful on behalf of a new counterinsurgency strategy that saved Iraq. While it’s true that the surge is not alone responsible for the progress we’ve made in Iraq, it’s impossible to argue that the progress we made would have been possible without it.
There is little question now that the Iraqi government’s newly stated position on troop withdrawals has been a great gift for Obama. The public perception is that even the Iraqis agree with Obama now; caveats and subtle interpretations of what is really being said, and not said, will be lost.
It may be that the United States has made, and will continue to make, so much progress in Iraq that it will succeed even if Obama is sworn in as president next January. But it may not. The gains there, while indisputable and enormous, may in fact turn out to be fragile and reversible, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have repeatedly warned. And Obama’s obvious indifference to whether we win or lose in Iraq — he seems wedded to the notion that victory in Afghanistan depends on a loss in Iraq — may in fact lead to tremendous, and possibly lethal, setbacks in Iraq. At this stage, it’s simply hard to tell what Iraq will look like six months from now.
It would be an added irony, and a tragic one, if Maliki’s statements help elect as president a man who has acted so recklessly regarding Iraq and, based on Senator Obama’s words, seems at best ambivalent about whether he wants America to win this war. It is certainly fair to say that since the surge was announced, and certainly since it has begun to succeed, Obama is reaching for every excuse he can find to allow Iraq to fail. The evidence is overwhelming, from his opposing the surge, to voting to deny troops funding, to (in February 2007) urging the complete withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq by early 2008, to denying the surge’s success, to opposing the counsel of both Petraeus and Crocker (the architects of our success in Iraq), to characterizing Iraq as a "distraction." At this point, for us to fail in Iraq would require real effort. But Barack Obama may be up to the task.
Iraq remains the central front in a war of enormous consequence. Americans need to think hard and carefully about whether it wants to elect as president a man who has had such a vested interest in undoing what is (finally) working there. If it does, not only America but Iraq and Maliki will have to live with, and perhaps suffer with, the consequences.