Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama, War and Political Expediency

Michael Gerson documents how Obama has placed political expediency over principle on the issue of the Iraq War. This transcends the mere question of whether Obama is being less than honest with the American public and goes to the heart of whether we would want such an individual as Commander in Chief.


I am inclined to take candidates at their word. But that said, even if Obama has no intention of withdrawing our soldiers from Iraq were he to be elected president, would we not want such an individual as commander in chief of our soldiers during time of war? As I have written before:

[C]haracter matters in war, more so than in any other endeavor. By character I mean attempting to do what one perceives as right based on principles, even if doing so comes at great personal cost. It is the polar opposite of making decisions on the basis of expediency.

In that post, I go on to demonstrate why the character of a commander is so critical, and that a person willing to subordinate their principles on the scales of political expediency is not acceptable as a wartime commander in chief. They will be less likely to prosecute the war to successful conclusion and their decisions will be more likely to endanger our soldiers. Read the entire post.

Within that rubric, Obama clearly falls on the side of a person who has demonstrated that he places political expediency over principles. Michael Gerson, in an excellent article in today's Washington Post, examines Obama's changing positions on the Iraq war and compares them to McCain's steadfast adherence to his principles.

. . . If Barack Obama eventually wins the Democratic nomination, his extraordinary rise may be traced to a speech on Oct. 2, 2002, at an antiwar rally in downtown Chicago. That day, Obama, then an obscure state senator, said: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

For many Democrats, this prescience has given Obama the aura of a prophet. And this early opposition lends credibility to his current promise: to swiftly end the U.S. combat role in Iraq.

Recently, this pledge was called into question by Obama's now-former adviser, Samantha Power, who said: "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. senator. He will rely upon a plan -- an operational plan -- that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground."

. . . In a new article on Commentary magazine's Web site, Peter Wehner undertakes a thorough examination of Obama's record on Iraq. It is, shall we say, complex.

More than a year after the initial success of the invasion, Obama explained, "There's not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." And he was correct. In July 2004, he argued that America had an "absolute obligation" to stay in Iraq until the country stabilized. "The failure of the Iraqi state would be a disaster," he said. "It would dishonor the 900-plus men and women who have already died."

Two months later, Obama criticized Bush's conduct of the war but repeated that simply pulling out would further destabilize Iraq, making it an "extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity." And he signaled his openness to the deployment of additional troops if this would make an eventual withdrawal more likely.

In June 2006, Obama still opposed "a date certain for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops." "I don't think it's appropriate for Congress," he said, "to make those decisions about what happens in the field."

By late 2006, as public support for the Iraq war disintegrated and his own political ambitions quickened, Obama called for a "phased withdrawal." When Bush announced the surge, Obama saw nothing in the plan that would "make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that's taking place there" -- a lapse in his prophetic powers.

When Obama announced his presidential candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007, he stated, "I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008." Then in May and again in November, he voted against funding American forces in Iraq.

Wehner concludes that Obama is guilty of "problematically ad-hoc judgments at best, calculatingly cynical judgments at worst." And he notes that while McCain has been consistently right about Iraq in the years since the invasion -- highly critical of the early strategy and supportive of a successful surge -- Obama has been consistently wrong in supporting the early, failed strategy and opposing the surge, even as its success became evident.

. . . [T]here is little doubt that Obama has gained in political support among Democrats as his positions on Iraq have become progressively antiwar. His March 2008 withdrawal deadline -- which is up now -- would have undone the Anbar Awakening, massively strengthened al-Qaeda and increased civilian carnage. . . .

The Iraq war determined the paths for McCain and Obama. But there is a large difference between them. McCain eventually won his nomination because he showed political courage in the face of overwhelming pressure. Obama may eventually win his nomination because he surrendered to that pressure.

Read the entire article.

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