Barack Obama has written an op-ed in The New York Times previewing his strategy in the Global War on Terrorism. The first thing to be noted is how suspect the timing is. Later this summer, Sen. Obama is planning to finally return to Iraq and get a first-hand look at the country and meet with the commanders in the field. By releasing his position now, it suggests that he should avoid expending the CO2 since he has apparently already decided his policy. To publish this piece now is not only bad timing, but insulting to the commanders on the ground who could have advised him.
Were his policies actually sound it would be one thing—but Sen. Obama makes the same predictable mistakes that Democrats keep making, and contradicts his own positions more than once:
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.
Sen. Obama said that the surge would fail and that there was no long-term military solution. Like the rest of the Democratic leadership, he misunderstands the purpose of the “surge.” Security is an absolute prerequisite to political reconciliation. People who have every reason to fear their neighbors have no reason to engage in political compromise. Obama’s policies would have taken Iraq into utter chaos. Without the breathing room that the surge provided, Iraq’s descent into civil war would have continued unabated. On the surge, Sen. Obama was categorically wrong, while Sen. McCain’s political bravery was constant and recent events have vindicated his then-controversial stand.
As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.
We may be able to remove our troops in 16 months, but only if the conditions support it. To do otherwise is irresponsible. Obama’s insistence on an arbitrary timetable is much like Prime Minister Maliki’s—unrealistic, designed for domestic consumption, and quickly to be abandoned.
There is little doubt that the security gains are making a withdrawal more tenable each day—and now Sen. Obama is going against his own position his own policy of “immediate” withdrawal and embracing a weakened plan that will likely happen regardless of who takes office. It is a better bet for the country to embrace someone who was right from the beginning than someone who is running against their own policies from only a few months ago.
Sen. Obama also misunderstands the conflict in Afghanistan as well:
Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.
If Afghanistan is not the central front in the war on terror then al-Qaeda was unaware of that “fact” as they themselves believed that it was. Sen. Obama forgets that al-Qaeda is an Arab group. It’s heart is not in Afghanistan, but in the Arab world. Obama’s plan to defeat al-Qaeda by reinforcing Afghanistan is analogous to saying that you would raid the gangsters at their hideout after they had already left.
The rise in violence in Afghanistan is a byproduct of our victory in Iraq. The skills we have learned in years of vigorous counterinsurgency will serve us well in Afghanistan and in future conflict. We do need to reinforce Afghanistan, but not because of al-Qaeda. The Taliban are a threat, but only to the Afghans. We have a moral imperative to help them, but that does not make Afghanistan central to this war.
Pakistan is the major breeding ground for al-Qaeda, and the reason that it is that al-Qaeda knows we can’t risk the fall of the Musharraf government to take them out. Thanks to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, no sane President would authorize a cross-border raid and risk the outbreak of World War III unless absolutely necessary. Having troops in Afghanistan at best puts them closer to al-Qaeda, but as close as that border may be, it is still too far to do much good.
A truly enterprising journalist would ask Sen. Obama why al-Qaeda would risk going into Afghanistan, a country that is crawling with US and allied troops, when Pakistan offers them a relatively safe haven. Sadly, few journalists are that enterprising.
In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But 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.
For a poker player, Sen. Obama has an obvious tell. Whenever he talks about something negative his political adversaries are saying about him, chances are he is telegraphing his own political weaknesses. The facts remain, Sen. Obama’s position up until it became political expedient was that we should surrender in Iraq. He changed his position when it he needed to paint an image of himself as being tough on terrorism. The American public cannot be sure where the political winds may take Sen. Obama. If the going gets tough in Afghanistan (as it likely will), can we trust Barack Obama not to give in?
Sen. McCain took a politically brave stand when it was not expedient for him to have done so. He took the heat because he was willing to stand on principle. While Barack Obama pre-judged the surge (as he now pre-judges the current situation), John McCain stood firm. McCain demonstrated political bravery, while Sen. Obama continues to change his position.
There is a reason why so many more Americans trust John McCain as Commander in Chief—because McCain has already shown a willingness to take the hard stands. Behind Obama’s rhetoric lies the reality of a neophyte politician who doesn’t want the facts to get in the way of his spin. We don’t need more of that in Washington. A true leader takes a stand based on a principle higher than political ambition. McCain has consistently done so, and that is why for all of Sen. Obama’s tough words, his logic is weak.