As the McCain camp notes in the never-ending game of “Guess Obama’s Next Iraq Policy,” Anthony Lake is hinting that Barack Obama will be back to his notion of a “strike force” — a vaguely defined residual force, in a yet to be determined location, with an unclear mission and an uncertain size. It really is nothing more than political cover for continuing to do what he has wanted to do all along — leave Iraq without regard to the consequences. So long as the (cue the music!) Strike Force is there we can leave with nothing to worry about, right?
Except for the fact that the Strike Force is hooey. What has succeeded and what is required if we are to have a decent outcome in Iraq are forces in Iraq sufficient to maintain security and promote the transition to political and military control by the Iraqi government. If the debacle in Somalia and the disastrous pre-surge Iraqi tactics taught us anything it is that a small force without a clearly defined objective (and a determination to restore order) quickly becomes fodder for the enemy.
We’ll await with interest whatever new and improved Iraqi position Obama has in mind. But candor should require that he acknowledge that the strategy which has succeeded was the one Obama opposed. Rather than figure out how to adhere to his old, failing policy — withdraw as fast as you can and hope for the best — Obama might consider how to align himself with what has worked. Better to forget transparent stunts like a “Strike Force” which avoid the real issue: how to successfully build upon the surge’s success and transition to an Iraq that can function independently of a substantial U.S. military presence.
One final observation: as he struggles to get in alignment with reality Obama is now playing the “listen to the commanders” card. But that has never been Obama’s view. Indeed, he has resisted at every turn since the surge began taking the advice of General Petraeus. From April’s Philadelphia debate:
GIBSON: And, Senator Obama, your campaign manager, David Plouffe, said, “When he is” — this is talking about you — “When he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in 16 months at the most. There should be no confusion about that.” So you’d give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?
OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie. That’s not the role of the generals. And one of the things that’s been interesting about the president’s approach lately has been to say, “Well, I’m just taking cues from General Petraeus.” Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer. Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics, once I’ve given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq, and we are going to have our combat troops out. We will not have permanent bases there. Once I have provided that mission, if they come to me and want to adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration. But, ultimately, the buck stops with me as the commander-in-chief.
The April Obama wasn’t taking cues from the military leaders but the July Obama is. Let’s hope the July one is the real and permanent Obama. And while he’s listening to the commanders he should ask them why the Strike Force is an unworkable and potentially dangerous idea.