Commentary Magazine


Obama on the War

In his New York Times op-ed today on Iraq, Barack Obama makes several claims worth examining.

In his opening paragraph, Obama writes

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

A phased redeployment of combat troops can now be done in the context of a victory in Iraq, whereas when Obama first called for the complete withdrawal of all combat troops in Iraq by March 2008, it would have led to an American defeat. It is because President Bush endorsed a counterinsurgency plan which Senator Obama fiercely opposed that we are in a position to both withdraw additional combat troops and prevail in Iraq.

Obama goes on to write

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda – greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge . . . Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.

This point cannot be emphasized enough: Obama, in opposing the surge, was wrong on the most important politico-military decision since the war began. He not only opposed the surge, he predicted in advance that it could not succeed and that it would not lead to a decrease in violence (on January 10, 2007, the night President Bush announced the surge, Obama declared he saw nothing in the plan that would “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” A week later, he repeated the point emphatically: the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.”)

Both predictions were demonstrably wrong. And for Obama to state that Iraq’s leaders “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge” is misleading and false. Iraqi leaders have reached comprehensive political accommodations, including passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification. In fact, a report card issued in May judged that Iraq’s efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are “satisfactory”–almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. Is Obama unaware of these achievements? Does he care at all about them?

In addition, Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, has taken to lead in opposing Shiite militia throughout Iraq, which in turn has led in a rallying of political support for Maliki throughout Iraq and respect for him among other Arab leaders.

The successful, Iraqi-led operations in Basra, Sadr City, and elsewhere completely subvert Obama’s claim that “only be redeploying our troops” can these things be achieved. They are in fact being achieved, something which would have been impossible if Obama’s “redeployment” plan had been put in place.

Obama writes this as well:

for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

In fact, it is far from clear that Iraq will be judged a strategic blunder at all, let alone the “greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.” It is now plausible to argue that the Iraq war will lead to a defeat of historic proportions for al Qaeda. It has already triggered a massive Sunni Muslim uprising against al Qaeda, a repudiation of violent jihadism from some of its original architects, and a significant shift within the Muslim world against the brutal tactics of jihadists. Iraq is also, right now, the only authentic democracy in the Arab world. And Saddam Hussein, the most aggressive and destabilizing force in the Middle East for the last several decades, is dead, and his genocidal regime is now but an awful, infamous memory.

This is not to deny that huge mistakes and miscalculations were made in the Phase IV planning of the war; it is to say, however, that those mistakes have been rectified and that we are now on the road to success in Iraq. None of this would have been possible if Senator Obama’s recommendations had been followed. It’s worth adding, I suppose, that if Obama’s recommendations had been followed, the results would qualify as the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.

Finally, Obama writes this:

on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

This is in some ways the most revealing statement written by Obama. He still cannot bring himself to say that the mission in Iraq is success, even when success is clearly within our grasp. For Obama the mission is, and since his presidential announcement in February 2007 has been, to end the war, even if it means an American loss of epic proportions. And if Obama had had his way, that is exactly what would have come to pass.

Among the most striking things about Obama’s op-ed is how intellectually dishonest it is, particularly for a man who once proudly proclaimed that he would let facts rather than preconceived views dictate his positions on Iraq.Obama’s op-ed is the effort of an arrogant and intellectually rigid man, one who disdains empirical evidence and is attempting to justify the fact that he has been consistently wrong on Iraq since the war began (for more, see my April 2008 article in Commentary, “Obama’s War“).

Senator Obama is once again practicing the “old politics” he claims to stand against, which is bad enough. But that Obama would have allowed America to lose, al Qaeda and Iran to win, and the Iraqi people to suffer mass death and possibly genocide because of his ideological opposition to the war is far worse. On those grounds alone, he ought to be disqualified from being America’s next commander-in-chief.

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