As someone who monitors the Iraq-war-policy debate closely, I was puzzled to open the New York Times and see an oped authored by Sen. Barack Obama entitled “My Plan for Iraq.” Besides the seemingly moderate tone — and calling for an Afghanistan “surge” (an idea I agree, and one proposed by Sen. Joe Lieberman in March) — not much in the piece is new or newsworthy. In the final analysis, the oped is another dogmatic addendum to Obama’s “withdrawal at any cost” position.
In fact, just one question entered my head when I finished reading: Why now? Why would Sen. Obama — or any legislator, for that matter — write such a piece before visiting the country for himself, seeing the situation with his own eyes, and speaking with commanders and troops who actually know what’s going on?
It strikes me that only someone who is signaling no interest in consulting with commanders on the ground would spell out his “plan” for Iraq just one week
before he visits the country for the first time in 918 days. Only someone who is arrogant enough to believe he always knows best would outline his Iraq policy before once
meeting one-on-one with General David Petraeus.
The only conceivable answer to the question is that Sen. Obama believes he can capitalize on Prime Minister Maliki’s recent comments about a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Maliki’s comments, important primarily because they demonstrate increased Iraqi strength and confidence, have been diluted by the fact that he didn’t actually call for a timeline after all. All withdrawal talks will be tied to conditions on the ground.
Maliki’s strong statements do provide the opportunity for withdrawal — a withdrawal based on the improved security brought on by the surge, improvements Senator Obama admits in his Times oped. What Sen. Obama fails to say there is that he adamantly opposed the surge, predicting last September on the basis of scant evidence that “It is a course that will not succeed.” Sen. Obama should admit his error in judgment in opposing the surge, and not compound that error now by once again announcing plans for Iraq without full knowledge of the facts on the ground — collecting the evidence that would enable him to develop a commonsense, conditions-based approach for troop withdrawal. Admitting mistakes, however, is something Obama does not do well.
Sen. Obama’s piece once again perpetuates the fallacious notion that the Iraqi government “has not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.” This assertion — backed up by wishful thinking — runs directly counter to reports from the ground; reports which Sen. Obama will himself receive in just one week.
Obama has said repeatedly (here & here) that if congressional benchmarks are met, the hasty withdrawal he desired could be slowed. Not so now, however. Even though the Iraqi government has met 15 of the 18 benchmarks set before it by Congress — and is stamping out Sunni terrorism and Shia militia activity within its borders — this still does not constitute political accommodation, according to Sen. Obama. It seems that nothing short of a Whole Foods in every village will stop the perpetuation of this falsehood.
Underlying the Left’s persistent pessimism on Iraq is the idea, as Sen. Obama says, that our mission in Iraq should be to “end the war.” As president, this would be his first directive. This was also the prerogative of Sen. Obama — and many of his Senate colleagues — in January 2007 when the surge was proposed. Surge proponents wanted to succeed in Iraq, while Sen. Obama & Co. wanted to “end the war.” Where would we be today if “ending the war” had been the mission then? And where will we be tomorrow if it becomes the mission now?