Tonight, President Obama will speak to the nation about the end of combat operations in Iraq. I’ll be liveblogging the speech here. I’ll be using a new system for liveblogging — as I liveblog the speech, you’ll be able to follow along without the need to reload the page. I’ll also be sending out liveblog updates through my Twitter feed.
Setting the Record Straight
But first, it’s important to set the record straight. We would not be able to be removing our combat troops from Iraq had we not successfully quelled the sectarian violence in Iraq. In short, without the surge back in 2007, Iraq would not be nearly as stable as it is now. The surge worked. It reduced sectarian violence.
Because the U.S. worked with Sunni leaders, Iraqi Sunnis helped us remove al-Qaeda in Iraq. This lead to the death of al-Qaeda leaders like Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and more recently Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. While there are still al-Qaeda affiliated splinter groups in Iraq, they are nowhere near as powerful as they were in 2007.
Because the threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq was eliminated, the radical Shi’ite groups lost support. Iranian-backed radicals like Moqtada al-Sadr couldn’t use the fear of al-Qaeda to win over Iraqi Shi’ites. Instead of leading a Shi’ite civil war, Moqtada al-Sadr ended up being discredited. His band of thugs, the Mahdi Army, are no longer a major threat to the future of Iraq. Al-Sadr himself was forced to flee to Iran out of fear.
All of this was due to the surge—not just the fact that we added more troops, but we used better tactics to protect the Iraqi people and improve their security and their living conditions.
There are two reasons why Iraq never flew into civil war in 2007: the bravery of the Iraqi people and the bravery of the U.S. and coalition troops.
The Real Obama Record On Iraq
Notably absent from these reasons in President Obama. His record on Iraq is a record of being fundamentally wrong from the beginning. Then-Senator Obama was an ardent opponent of the surge from the very beginning. He is on record as saying that not only would the surge not work, but the added troops would have increased tensions in Iraq.
As a candidate, Obama strongly opposed the surge throughout 2007 and into the 2008 campaign. His position was that the U.S. should begin immediately removing troops from Iraq. Had President Bush listened to Obama then, there would have been a power vacuum in Iraq that would have turned the country into another Somalia.
In fact, Obama had said that even after it was clear that the surge was working, he still would have opposed it.
But Obama has subsequently changed his tune. He tried to scrub his prior criticisms of the surge from his campaign web page. And it would be only a few years after Obama ripped the concept of the surge to shreds that he would endorse the very same policy—but that time applying it to Afghanistan. President Obama may have opposed the surge when he was a candidate, but now he seeks the credit.
He deserves little credit. He can’t say that he fulfilled any campaign promise to withdraw from Iraq: in fact the timetable for US withdrawal was set before Obama took office. It was the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that set the withdrawal date, not President Obama. Regardless of who had won in 2008, the situation would be the same. It was the surge that allowed the U.S. to draw down its forces in Iraq without creating a dangerous power vacuum that would have destabilized the entire region.
Now, if President Obama gives full credit to the troops without politicizing the issue, he’ll have set the right tone. But Obama’s statements must be set against Obama’s record on the war. He was wrong on the surge. The surge worked. The security of the Iraqi people was a necessary precondition to any political rapprochement. Obama’s preference for a “diplomatic surge” would never have worked.
No matter what Obama says tonight, the real heroes in this conflict and the American, coalition, and Iraqi soldiers, police, and security forces that put their lives on the line day in and day out to secure a better future for Iraq. If the President acknowledges this, he deserves credit. But if he tries to spin Iraq into a political victory for himself, it will backfire on him. This isn’t Obama’s victory, this is a victory for Iraq. We should never let the President forget that.