Monday’s New York Post included a revealing column by Amir Taheri, a respected commentator on the Middle East. The piece, bolstered by firsthand reporting, provided a troubling glimpse into Senator Barack Obama’s trip to Iraq in July.
According to Taheri, Sen. Obama used the trip to press Iraqi leaders to delay negotiations with a “weak” and “politically confused” Bush administration. Calling the U.S. presence in Iraq “illegal,” Sen. Obama also tried to press General Petraeus & Co. for a realistic withdrawal date, to no avail.
Taheri’s column comports with second-hand reports I’ve received from those with access to top U.S. decision-makers in Iraq. Rather than use his touch-down trip to Baghdad to fact-find and consult with senior Iraqi and American officials, Sen. Obama made a concerted effort to push his post–Bush administration agenda, undermining — in word and deed — current diplomatic efforts in Iraq. Tuesday, the Obama campaign essentially confirmed the details of Taheri’s reporting.
Some will see this interference in foreign policy during a time of war and cry, “Treason!” While the episode truly is a scandal, I will check my emotions — as I find the overabundance of outrage in our politics tiring and toxic. I believe, rather, that the underlying naivety of Obama’s overtures is the more disturbing lesson to be distilled from this discovery.
It’s not just that Sen. Obama doesn’t believe in the mission in Iraq, it’s that he still doesn’t get it (to plagiarize from the senator himself). Fundamentally, he doesn’t understand the mission in Iraq, what it takes to win a war, or the ramifications of the outcome of this war for the U.S.’s enduring national security. He just doesn’t get it.
In Obama’s world, foreign-policy contorts to meet domestic politics, and commanding generals accommodate arbitrary political timelines. From his perspective, facts on a foreign battlefield exist to the extent they comport with his judgment, rather than his judgment comporting to facts on a foreign battlefield.
Despite recognizing security gains in Iraq, Sen. Obama continues to declare the surge a strategic failure because it hasn’t created necessary political progress — an assertion that has been patently false for some time now. Nonetheless, Senator Obama won’t adjust his stance before the election because, as Taheri so aptly points out, “to be credible, his foreign-policy philosophy requires Iraq to be seen as a failure, a disaster, a quagmire.”
Consider the circumstances of Sen. Obama’s trip to Iraq: Not only did he make his first trip to Iraq in over two years only after much prodding, he also laid out his Iraq plan before his visit. Only someone willing to solidify their plan before meeting with subject-matter experts would have the audacity to then pester and pressure those experts to pursue policies advantageous only to him.
Surely Sen. Obama doesn’t want to lose in Iraq? No, he just believes winning or losing there doesn’t matter. Surely he doesn’t really believe our presence in Iraq to be “illegal”? No, he just doesn’t understand existing strategic agreements. And, as explained by Taheri, surely he doesn’t think we can withdrawal in 16 months? No he doesn’t, he just remains politically wedded to a discredited policy.
How else can you explain the actions of a senator who travels abroad and calls the commander-in-chief “weak,” and the war we are winning “illegal”? My sources tell me he made few friends among warriors and diplomats in Iraq; yet he wasn’t actually interested in hearing from them, only preaching to them. He really believes — as do many of his antiwar colleagues — that they know better than generals and Iraqi leaders. And he was hoping to have Iraq’s help in confirming that self-regard, in making him look like an expert. Alas, no longer.
Case and point: competing Senate resolutions which could come before the Senate today — one sponsored by Senators Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Graham (R., S.C.); the other sponsored by Senators Levin (D., Mich.) and Reed (D., R.I.).
The Lieberman-Graham resolution (S.R. 636) asks the Senate to recognize the overwhelming strategic and tactical success of the surge and thank the troops who made it possible. The resolution reiterates the belief of General Petraeus and others (reiterated as recently as last week) that Iraq is a “central front” in the global war on terrorism and that our mission must be strategic success, one that does not end in premature withdrawal.
As a response to Lieberman-Graham, which has 33 co-sponsors as of this writing, Senate Democrats have proposed a counter-resolution (which is not yet posted, but has been reviewed by the author). As expected, Levin-Reed includes the familiar litany of reasons why the surge is a failure, why Iraqis haven’t reconciled, and why Afghanistan is the only war that matters.
Intended to be a resolution “recognizing the performance of the United States Armed Forces,” Levin-Reed quickly descends into a laundry list of problems in Iraq (financial cost, human toll, military strain) before launching into a rudimentary call for a new and “effective strategy” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
A new and effective strategy? Would that mean returning to the strategy that didn’t work before the surge? The answer is yes. At the end of their resolution, Levin and Reed reiterate their hollow belief that we can achieve “strategic success” in Iraq by redeploying (i.e., withdrawing) based on a fixed timeline. They have learned absolutely nothing from the last 20 months in Iraq, and are willing to put it in writing.
Of particular note in the Levin-Reed resolution is the fact that not once do they acknowledge that the new Petraeus strategy had anything to do with dramatic gains in Iraq. They talk about “increased troop numbers” and “enhanced special operations” but never talk about the new strategy. They purposefully exclude the single most important factor — presumably hoping that no one will notice. In this instance, it’s not that they don’t get it, it’s that they’re hoping voters don’t get it.
Equally disturbing, the document includes a quote from an admiral saying that we are “running out of time” in Afghanistan, yet excludes — and contradicts — statements made by a certain general, our current CENTCOM commander, that al-Qaeda is the “central front for extremists.”
Once gain, Sen. Obama and his fellow Democrats continue to insist that they know better than generals. They won’t let the facts get in the way of a good political narrative. Taheri’s article is the latest crack in the facade of Sen. Obama and his fellow travelers, and signals their flip, naïve, and self-serving approach to strategic objectives on the battlefield.
– Captain Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is chairman of Vets for Freedom.