In his St. Paul victory speech, Barack Obama pledged again to pull out of Iraq. Rather than “continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians. . . . It’s time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future.”
We know Obama hasn’t been to Iraq in more than two years, but does he not read the papers? Does he not know anything about developments on the ground? Here is the “nothing” that Iraqis have been doing in the last few months:
1. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent the Iraqi army into Basra. It achieved in a few weeks what the British had failed to do in four years: take the city, drive out the Mahdi army, and seize the ports from Iranian-backed militias.
2. When Mahdi fighters rose up in support of their Basra brethren, the Iraqi army at Maliki’s direction confronted them and prevailed in every town — Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Kut, Nasiriyah, and Diwaniyah — from Basra to Baghdad.
3. Without any American ground forces, the Iraqi army entered and occupied Sadr City, the Mahdi army stronghold.
4. Maliki flew to Mosul, directing a joint Iraqi-U.S. offensive against the last redoubt of al-Qaeda, which had already been driven out of Anbar, Baghdad, and Diyala provinces.
5. The Iraqi parliament enacted a de-Baathification law, a major Democratic benchmark for political reconciliation.
6. Parliament also passed the other reconciliation benchmarks — a pension law, an amnesty law, and a provincial elections and powers law. Oil revenues are being distributed to the provinces through the annual budget.
7. With Maliki having demonstrated that he would fight not just Sunni insurgents (e.g., in Mosul) but Shiite militias (e.g., the Mahdi army), the Sunni parliamentary bloc began negotiations to join the Shiite-led government. (The final sticking point is a squabble over a sixth Cabinet position.)
The disconnect between what Democrats are saying about Iraq and what is actually happening there has reached grotesque proportions. Democrats won an exhilarating electoral victory in 2006 pledging withdrawal at a time when conditions in Iraq were dire and we were indeed losing the war. Two years later, when everything is changed, they continue to reflexively repeat their “narrative of defeat and retreat” (as Joe Lieberman so memorably called it) as if nothing has changed.
It is a position so utterly untenable that John McCain must seize the opportunity and, contrary to conventional wisdom, make the Iraq War the central winning plank of his campaign. Yes, Americans are war-weary. Yes, most think we should not have engaged in the first place. Yes, Obama will keep pulling out his 2002 speech opposing the war.
But McCain’s case is simple. Is not Obama’s central mantra that this election is about the future not the past? It is about 2009, not 2002. Obama promises that upon his inauguration, he will order the Joint Chiefs to bring him a plan for withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months. McCain says that upon his inauguration, he’ll ask the Joint Chiefs for a plan for continued and ultimate success.
The choice could not be more clearly drawn. The Democrats’ one objective in Iraq is withdrawal. McCain’s one objective is victory.
McCain’s case is not hard to make. Iraq is a three-front war — against Sunni al-Qaeda, against Shiite militias, and against Iranian hegemony — and we are winning on every front:
We did not go into Iraq to fight al-Qaeda. The war had other purposes. But al-Qaeda chose to turn it into the central front in its war against America. That choice turned into an al-Qaeda fiasco: Al-Qaeda in Iraq is now on the run and in the midst of stunning and humiliating defeat.
As for the Shiite extremists, the Mahdi army is isolated and at its weakest point in years.
Its sponsor, Iran, has suffered major setbacks, not just in Basra, but in Iraqi public opinion, which has rallied to the Maliki government and against Iranian interference through its Sadrist proxy.
Even the most expansive American objective — establishing a representative government that is an ally against jihadists, both Sunni and Shiite — is within sight.
Obama and the Democrats would forfeit every one of these successes to a declared policy of fixed and unconditional withdrawal. If McCain cannot take to the American people the case for the folly of that policy, he will not be president. Nor should he be.
Give the speech, senator. Give it now.
– Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist.
© 2008, The Washington Post Writers Group