Iraq, Obama Administration, Politics, War On Terror

Obama On Iraq: Setting The Record Straight

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

An Iraqi woman raises a purple finger after voting for the first time in a free Iraqi election.

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.

Iraq, War On Terror

What Victory Looks Like

ABC News finds that Iraqis are more secure and more supportive of democracy. Security is a necessary prerequisite to any kind of political reconciliation, and it’s now looking like the Iraqi people really do feel more secure. For example, the poll found:

While deep difficulties remain, the advances are remarkable. Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it’s been.

Few credit the United States, still widely unpopular given the post-invasion violence, and eight in 10 favor its withdrawal on schedule by 2011 – or sooner. But at the same time a new high, 64 percent of Iraqis, now call democracy their preferred form of government.

While it would be nice to be popular in Iraq, what we have achieved through the surge is what needed to be achieved. The goal of the surge: to provide enough security to prevent Iraq from exploding was met. The surge worked. It not only created a more secure Iraq, but thanks to our willingness to work with all sides, it has dramatically reduced sectarian tensions. The surge did exactly what it was supposed to do, and it represents one of the most important military turnarounds in the history of counterinsurgency. Future military leaders will be studying the tactics of great military minds like Gen. Petraeus and Col. H.R. McMaster for years to come.

Now, imagine an alternate scenario where John Kerry was elected President in 2004. He would have pulled U.S. troops from Iraq, leaving the country defenseless. An Iraqi civil war would have been inevitable. The Iraqi Shi’a would have looked to Iran for protection from al-Qaeda. Iraqi Sunnis would have banded either with al-Qaeda or looked to the Saudis and other fellow Sunnis for protection from the Iranians. The Kurds in the north would be fighting a pitched battle against both al-Qaeda and Iran.

For all the talk about how terrible a war Iraq was, it could have been much worse. Had Kerry been elected, it almost certainly would have.

Had now-Vice President Biden gotten his way and split Iraq down sectarian lines, the result would have been much the same. Iraq would be divided, and soon conquered.

Biden, now-Secretary of State Clinton, President Obama, Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi, all of them were wrong on Iraq. None of the advances that have been made in the past two years would have happened had they gotten their way. There should be a lesson in that.

Iraq still has a long period of transition. Other, more mundane problems like corruption and government efficiency still pose a threat to its future. But the days when terrorists threatened to destabilize the country are now over—and if we continue to meet our commitments to the Iraqi people and continue to train their military and government leaders, those terrible days will be over forever.

But peace is a tenuous thing. If Obama withdraws American troops in an irresponsible manner, the gains we’ve made could be lost as al-Qaeda, the Sadrists, or other groups exploit the vacuum. We must withdraw with full cognizance of the situation on the ground and be prepared to alter our timetable as necessary.

We have won in Iraq, and we should not ignore the lessons we have learned. Future conflicts in the 21st Century will look much like the one in Iraq, and we must be prepared to fight them—and we must also be willing to learn that the model of Iraq may not fit elsewhere as easily. What we need in Afghanistan is the same kind of visionary leadership that we had on the ground in Iraq as well as a political structure back home that will listen to them. President Obama should learn from President Bush’s mistakes and understand that the path to victory should be dictated by the theater of battle, not the politics of Washington.


Don’t Pop Open The Champagne Yet

Don Surber argues that the war in Iraq has been won as the US and the Iraqis work together on a bilateral accord that would see the majority of US troops out of Iraq by the beginning of 2009.

I think that the changes in Iraq are sustainable and that al-Qaeda in Iraq has been largely driven out of the country. What we have achieved in Iraq this year is one of the most crucial and least understood military victories in history. It’s easy to think that the war is over.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. Another attack like the one against the Golden Mosque in Samarra could launch another set of recriminations. AQI is beaten, but there are still “dead enders” who won’t go without a fight. We are entering a new phase in this conflict, but it won’t be the sort of victory we saw at the end of World War II in which the belligerent power is forced to sign an unconditional surrender on the deck of an American battleship. There won’t be a V-I day like there was a V-E Day and a V-J Day in World War II. There won’t even necessarily be a signal like the fall of the Berlin Wall to note the monumental nature of this change.

The war in Iraq isn’t necessarily over, it’s just entering a new phase. In this phase, Iraqis will be doing most of the work, with the help of the US when requested. The Iraqis will have the make the political compromises necessary to bring Iraq forward. They will be on the front lines against terrorism for some time, and they will still face attacks by those who are threatened by the very idea of a representative democracy taking wing in the Arab world.

Our troops are still at risk, and the situation in Iraq remains far too fluid to call this a victory. We won the first war in Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, and what has followed is part of a global war on terrorism that will more fade into a series of police actions than end in the conventional sense.

We should be extremely proud of what has been done in Iraq, by the Multinational Forces – Iraq and the people of Iraq, all of whom have put their lives on the line to give Iraq a chance. The battle isn’t yet over, and too many false victories have been declared as it is to repeat the same mistake. Iraq is stabilizing, and we are making more progress than ever, but it is simply too soon to declare victory in a war that is still ongoing.

Iraq, War On Terror

Something To Be Thankful For… Unless You’re A Defeatist Democrat…

Don Surber lays it on the line: we’re winning in Iraq, and the Democrats are stuck in the past:

The New York Times devoted a huge hunk of its Page One on Tuesday to the good news of the return to more normal times in Iraq. The story was illustrated with a photo of a wedding scene on the streets of Baghdad.

Violence has been cut in half. And while the nation is far from the tranquil democracy that many of us hoped for in April 2003, it also is a far cry from the chaotic mess it was just six months ago.

We are winning in Iraq.

Will someone please inform the Democrats?

He’s right: the signs are unmistakable. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been routed. Without the support of Iraq’s Sunni population, they have no hiding place. There’s nowhere for them to run in Iraq, and they can’t pull the same trick they did before and retreat back into the periphery around the major cities. The “Awakening” movements are everywhere and the Iraqis are no longer willing to tolerate terrorist oppressors in their midst.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq can still cause problems, but in a real tactical sense, they’ve been defeated.

The Shi’ite death squads such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army are similarly skating on thin ice. Moqtada al-Sadr is a tool of Iran, funded and armed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces. Yet now al-Sadr’s organization is being rolled up—at least those whose radicalism doesn’t allow them to follow his “cease fire.” Those are the ones most likely to cause problems. Getting rid of them diminishes the ability for al-Sadr to cause problems in the future. Al-Sadr is a thug, but even he has realized that attacking the Iraqi government has gotten him nowhere. His cease fire order is a political calculation—it’s no longer expedient for him to play the part of the revolutionary leader. That alone should say something about the conditions in Iraq.

So why don’t the Democrats get it? Why are they still trying to play politics over the war? If even The New York Times can see that things are getting better, why can’t they find a change in strategy?

The simple answer is that’s all they have.

The Democratic Congress has failed to achieve any significant legislative achievements. The most they’ve gotten is a minor increase in the minimum wage that has little effect, and most of the effect it will have will be negative. They’re playing to their base as a defensive posture: they think that by “ending the war” people will ignore their inability to get anything done.

That kind of political posturing doesn’t mean anything. The Democrats have become so invested in a narrative of failure that they can’t even perceive of anything different. They’re absolutely fixated on this one issue.

The more the disparity grows between the reality of Iraq and the Democrat’s defeatist rhetoric, the more desperate and out-of-touch the Democrats look. Right now, all the juvenile political games the Democrats are playing in Congress only makes them look even less like leaders and more like squabbling children. Attaching more conditions to war funding is a maneuver designed for nothing more than partisan politics. It hurts our troops, and if the Democrats keep playing these games they’ll only hurt the local economies around military bases when the Defense Department has to start firing support staff to keep in operation. If that happens, the Democrats will be in real political trouble.

The Democrats have been painting themselves in a corner for years now. That strategy has worked when Iraq has been on a downslide, but now that things are getting better, they have nowhere to go. They’re pretending like the situation in Iraq is the same as it was in 2006 because that’s when their strategy was successful. Yet the circumstances have changed, and the Democrats have not.

The Democrats are invested in a narrative, and their narrative is increasingly disconnected from the facts. (Not that it ever was.) Sooner or later, the American people are going to start to question why the Democrats seem to be so invested in American defeat in Iraq, especially when the situation seems to be stabilized. If the Democrats were smart they’d start changing their narrative to say that they were the ones who pushed Bush into conceding that the strategy of 2003–2006 had failed. Indeed, that’s precisely what Sen. John McCain is already doing. Yet to do that would be to alienate the hardcore antiwar constituency that has a chokehold on the Democratic Party.

The situation is getting better in Iraq, but the narrative in Washington remains the same. As our troops and their Iraqi allies rack up more and more victories against terrorism in Iraq, the Democrats keep wanting to pull the rug out from under them. It’s one thing to advocate for surrender in a war that’s going badly—it’s entirely another to do the same in a war that’s being won. The fact that the Democrats can’t seem to understand that demonstrates just how much the narrative has overwhelmed their common sense.

UPDATE: Michael Yon offers a note of caution. He’s right: even an enemy that’s been largely defeated can still cause plenty of trouble. All that it takes is a lucky strike in a crowded market with a car bomb for the old narrative to re-emerge. The story of counterinsurgency and democratization is often a story of two steps forward and one and a half steps back. Iraq has taken a giant step forward in recent months, but that doesn’t mean that they’re out of the woods quite yet.