William McGurn recounts NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley’s courageous role in backing the surge, when virtually no one supported such an approach. McGurn then concludes:
At bottom, Mr. Obama’s war stance boils down to reducing our presence in Iraq and increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The success of the surge permits him to carry out this strategy from a position of strength. In fact, the security pact just approved by Iraq’s cabinet suggests that Mr. Obama is now in a position to achieve most of his Iraq aims without jeopardizing the hard-won gains our troops have made — provided he keeps his word to listen to our commanders on the ground.
Awarding Steve Hadley the Medal of Freedom would cost Mr. Obama nothing, save possibly a few howls from the Daily Kos. Surely it is not beyond a candidate who has already conceded that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams” to bestow the Medal of Freedom on the public servant who made that success possible.
Were President Obama to do so, a good man would receive an honor he richly deserves. The American people would see a new president confident enough to acknowledge the success of a decision he opposed. And the world would know that when the United States does leave Iraq, we intend to walk out with honor instead of being helo’d off an embassy rooftop.
A medal for Hadley might be out of the question, but I am confident he would be quite satisfied with the successful completion of the surge he nurtured. This, perhaps more than any economic decision, is the true test of character and intellectual independence for the President-elect. Is he simply a pawn of the netroots, forever bound to his campaign rhetoric and oblivious to the consequences of victory? Or is he the thoughtful, non-ideologue which many of his supporters assure us he is? If the latter, certainly he would not cast victory aside now — when he has been placed on the precipice of an extraordinary achievement, the establishment of a functioning, stable Iraq and a humiliating defeat of Al Qaeda at the hands of not just the U.S. but another Islamic nation.
We will see which path President-elect Obama takes. To a large extent, his intentions will be revealed by his cabinet picks. Certainly Robert Gates’ retention would be a big hint he doesn’t desire to discard victory, while choosing Chuck Hagel would suggest the opposite. But one thing we learned from the Presidency of George W. Bush: ultimately it comes down to the President. It is his call, and his call alone.