Sen. (not President, despite the way he is carrying his campaign) Obama’s position on the surge still does not make a great deal of sense. As with everything Obama says or does, what really matters is not consistency, logic, or good policy, but cheap politics.
First, Obama can’t deny that the surge has produced results. It clearly has. The violence in “unwinnable” Iraq is now down, and the gains that have been made are finally on a solid foundation.
What did Sen. Obama say about the surge?
We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don’t know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.
I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.
That was January of 2007. Later that year, Obama said this:
Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked. And they said today, ‘Well, even in September, we’re going to need more time.’ So we’re going to kick this can all the way down to the next president, under the president’s plan.
There’s no doubt that throughout 2007, when Sen. McCain was risking his political future in supporting the surge, Sen. Obama held the position that the surge would not, and could not, work. Now Obama has had to scramble away from that position in recent days. His position that even knowing what he knows now, he would not support the surge is preposterous—and by his own words is based on his dislike of Bush rather than substantive reasoning.
His statement to ABC News’ Terry Moran was that he would still be against the surge because “we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one I just disagreed with” is childish. His argument is that since he disagrees with Bush, he would do the opposite of what Bush did even if what Bush did was actually effective. It is tempting to remind Sen. Obama that Bush was elected President in the hope that he’d drop out of the race and spare us from more of his endless political vanity.
There is a reason why the surge worked. It worked because security is absolutely necessary for political compromise. The Sunnis and Sh’ia could never make political concessions when they had every reason to fear each other. You can’t have political compromise when the parties are trying to kill each other. That such a concept is radical to some is a little distressing and shows how political rhetoric has become so divorced from thinking about the real world. The surge worked because it helped restore order. Obama’s plan would have failed because it would have put the cart before the horse in terms. Pushing for political compromise would have been foolish when the Sh’ia feared al-Qaeda and the Sunnis feared the Sadrists. People don’t tend to make deals with people that they think are going to kill them.
If logic isn’t enough, that Obama is endorsing a virtual replay of the surge in Afghanistan should make it clear. To be fair, Afghanistan is not quite like Iraq. It has never been a truly “modern” country, and while it has had moments of peace, for most of its history it has been a place wracked with violent conflict. Obama’s strategy of replaying the surge in Afghanistan is probably the right call, but there is no reason to believe that Afghanistan is truly the central front in this war. Al-Qaeda isn’t in Afghanistan, they are hiding next door in Pakistan, where we cannot go.
If the surge supposedly didn’t really do the job in Iraq, why should it work in Afghanistan? The Afghan government is weaker than Al-Maliki’s. President Karzai has little effective control outside Kabul, and there’s no reason for many of the distant tribes outside the cities to submit to him. Afghanistan is a tribal state, not a democracy, and it will be generations (if not longer) before that will change. Defeating the Taliban is a good thing, but that doesn’t help us fight al-Qaeda, which is a different group entirely.
Don’t expect answers from the Obama camp. More vague platitudes about “hope” and “change” are enough to pack in the throngs of admirers, and that’s all he will deliver. With Obama, style and ambition continue to trump substance, and like Bill Clinton what matters is not what the best policy is, but what does the most to stroke the ego of the candidate. That kind of feckless egotism was fatal to American interests throughout the 1990 as al-Qaeda metastasized, Pakistan got the bomb, and America’s enemies saw us as a venal paper tiger. They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A President who fails to learn from history can doom us all.