Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Critiquing the Obama Manifesto On Iraq

Barack Obama has written an opinion piece in the NYT setting forth his "plan" for Iraq. It is a plan not to "win" the war, nor to exploit the gains made at great cost in U.S. and Iraqi gold and blood. Nor is it a plan to use the opportunities Iraq offers to battle Sunni extremism and the threat from Iran's soon to be nuclear armed mad mullahs. To the contrary, Mr. Obama’s plan is to "end" the war and leave with all due haste, declaring the war a mistake from inception. It is a plan based on falsehoods and fantasy driven by Obama's personal ambition ill concealed beneath language that speaks to consideration of the best interests of our nation.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, in making his call to withdraw from Iraq over sixteen months, he sought to take advantage of reports from earlier in the week that Iraqi PM Maliki had himself called for such a timetable. As discussed in the post here, Obama seems to have grabbed for a liferaft only to have found a lead weight. Mr. Maliki has not called for a timetable for withdraw. That was an "inartful" statement by Maliki’s staff that Maliki has since had to disavow - a scenario with which Mr. Obama is intimately familiar.

That aside, Obama sets forth a series of justifications for leaving Iraq and the consequences thereof. To look at these in detail:

1. Obama: Leaving Iraq is in the "strategic interest" of the U.S. While we have dithered in Iraq, al Qaeda and Iran have "become stronger."

It would be hard to imagine anything less in our strategic interests than leaving Iraq so long as the Iraqi government desires our presence. As to the justifications that al Qaeda and Iran have become stronger, that is pure prevarication.

The promise of a secular and democratic Iraq - secular in the sense that the Shia majority reject the velyat-e-faqi ideology of Iran’s theocracy and in the sense that the Sunni population has rejected al Qaeda - is at the very heart of our strategic interests. Both al Qaeda and Iran are equally dangerous to the U.S. and the world. A democratic, secular Iraq poses an existential threat to both. Indeed, on that point alone, it makes of Iraq a far more important strategic concern than Afghanistan. Factor in all of the other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, such as wealth (GDP - $102 billion versus $35 billion), location (center of the Middle East versus landlocked in Asia), natural resources (world's 2nd largest oil reserves versus some natural gas and mineral resources) and ethnicities (important from the standpoint of causing effect in target populations outside the country's borders, Iraq - Arab 80% versus Afghanistan - 45% Pashtun), and it becomes clear that, if we are to assume risk in one of the two countries, all of our strategic interests dictate that we assume the risk in Afghanistan.

At a minimum, it is in our strategic interests to maintain significant forces in Iraq until such time as both we and the Iraqis are sure that they are fully capable of fending off all threats – both external and internal. And it is an equally valid argument that, should the Iraqis be willing to house U.S. military forces long term, that we should establish "permanent" bases there. We did so in Germany, Japan, and South Korea to protect those countries from expansionist enemies on their borders and to provide an element of stability for their nascent democratic governments. It has been an eminently successful policy. Our strategic interests in insuring that Iraq thrives as a secular democracy are of no less critical import than were our similar interests in Germany, Japan and South Korea at the time that they emerged from hostilities.

As to al Qaeda, to claim that the threat from that organization has grown while we sat in Iraq is pure fantasy. The al Qaeda brand is in decline throughout the Middle East largely because of our success in Iraq. Al Qaeda publicly made Iraq the centerpiece of its efforts after the U.S. invasion. Their brutal tactics cost them the loyalty of Iraq’s Sunnis who then began to feed intelligence to the U.S. military. The end result was a strategic military and p.r. defeat for al Qaeda that is reverberating throughout the Middle East – as discussed at length in a recent TNR article.

It is necessary to caveat that. As Robert Spencer recently wrote, just because terrorism has faded as a result of our efforts in Iraq and the global war on terror does not mean radicalism or the call to jihad have been defeated. As al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, publicly stated in April, topping his to-do list is the reinfestation of Iraq and the destruction of the Iraqi Sunni Awakening Movements. As Walid Phares recently pointed out, al Qaeda is far from dead, and to pull out of Iraq without insuring that the country is stable would be an open invitation to both al Qaeda and Iran's mad mullahs to resume their efforts to dominate Iraq. Professor Phares writes:

. . . al Qaeda is now contained in the very battlefield it chose to fend off the Infidels in: Iraq. But this is just one moment in space and time, during which we will have to fight hard to keep the situation as is. Our favorable situation is a product of the US military surge and of a massive investment in dollars. It is up to this Congress, and probably to the next President to maintain that moment, weaken it or expand it.Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime know exactly the essence of this strategic equation. I am not sure, though, that a majority of Americans are aware of the gravity of the situation. In other words, the public is told that we have won this round against al Qaeda but it should be informed of what it would take to reach final victory in this global conflict.

As to Iran, the mad mullahs see Iraq as both a plum to be picked and an existential threat if left alone. As a plum, Iraq offers vast oil wealth and it is the only other significant country with a majority Shia population. If Iran is able to Lebanize Iraq, they will have the keys to that oil wealth and they will have consolidated their bastardized and bloody version of the Shia religion as the world's dominant form of Shia Islam. Iran will have become a much more significant threat, wholly irrespective of their drive towards a nuclear arsenal.

Of equal importance – and totally ignored by Obama – is the other side of the coin. That is that Iraq, as a democracy whose majority Shia population embrace the traditional, apolitical quietist school, presents Iran with an existential threat. Iraq’s millenia old practice of quietism is in direct contradiction to the Khomeinist veleyat-e-faqi that is the basis for Iran's theocracy. And a true democracy on Iran's border would likely be a death knell in the long term for Iran, given the unrest that exists in Iran today. There is a reason the most vocal opponents of U.S. forces remaining in Iraq are the mad mullahs.

Iran's theocracy has run their country into the ground, brutalized their population, and maintains its hold on power only through ever greater repression. It is a country whose economic situation, made all the worse by Ahmedinejad, is critical. Inflation is running above 25% and unemployment is hitting new double digit highs each month. Food prices are soaring and gas is now being rationed. It is a nation not that far from a counter-revolution. Indeed, evidence of the severe dissaffection with the mullahs is everywhere in Iran, an example of which can be seen from the video of a "massive protest" that occurred in Tehran just days ago.

Thus, if we are to meet the existential strategic challenge posed by Iran, the key to defeating that challenge without a major war likely lies in Iraq. However, if the U.S. withdraws, there is a substantial possibility that Iraq will be Lebanized by Iran - and then our problems will be just beginning. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were crystal clear about the risk during the April hearings. And as Iranian CIA agent former IRGC member Mr. Reza Khalili opined in his recent article at PJM:

Tehran . . . believes that after the current President Bush, the next U.S. administration (if led by a Democrat) will most likely reduce forces and slowly move out, leaving it for the Iraqis to sort things out, which ultimately will result in Iran’s domination of the region, with catastrophic consequences for the Free World. . . .

All that said, Obama is correct in two respects. Obama is correct that we face an ever increasing challenge in Afghanistan. But that does not exist because we are in Iraq. We had Afghanistan largely won by the end of 2004. The ever increasing threat since then is because Pakistan has allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda refuge in North and South Waziristan and the NWFP, coupled with the counterproductive and ineffective U.S. poppy eradication programs. These have allowed the radicals a safe haven and a source of funding, both of which are wholly unrelated to Iraq.

More troops are needed in Afghanistan, but they should be NATO troops. Afghanistan is a NATO mission, but as it stands today, the majority of our NATO allies are refusing to play any significant role in Afghanistan. Obama ignores this and he does so for a very important reason. He chairs the foreign policy subcommittee on Europe, the home to our NATO allies. Yet since assuming that role in 2007, he has done precisely nothing to pressure our NATO allies into supporting the mission in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, and to put this in perspective, Obama wants to reduce combat forces in Iraq to a nominal force ostensibly so that he can shuffle one to two more combat brigades to Afghanistan. We currently have approximately 150,000 soldiers in Iraq. Two combat brigades with a supply tail comes to between 8,000 and 20,000 people, depending on the type of combat brigades deployed. With the drawdown of surge forces that will go final this month, we have the capacity to send that additional manpower to Afghanistan without any further drawdown of forces in Iraq. It would stretch our forces, but to justify withdraw from Iraq in order to provide two combat brigades to Afghanistan is pure smoke and mirrors.

Obama is also correct that Iran has gotten stronger -- if, that is, one only looks at their progress towards an atomic arsenal. Iran has clearly suffered major setbacks in Iraq with the defeat and now demobilization of their proxy, the Mahdi Army. But Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal continue at a rapid pace. Those efforts have taken place while the world has embraced the Obama prescription of endless negotiations with as many carrots and sticks as the West is willing to pony up. Obama has regularly risen up to denounce the hint of any threat of force to address the existential problem of Iran’s race towards a nuclear arsenal.

I am not sure how much of Obama’s ultra-pacificsm is simply cynical fodder for his base as opposed to how much is actually based on a Marxist paradigm though which Obama seems to see the world. By this paradigm, he divides the world up into victim groups and sees economic concerns as the panacea for all ills. For example, in the wake of 9-11, Obama identified the primary cause of Islamic violence as "a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair." We know that is not true – the typical terrorist is just as likely if not moreso to be educated and middle class. Then there was his comment that the "bitter" folk of our nation, those who take principled stands on their religion and Constitutional rights, only do so because they lack economic opportunity. Obama has expressed a similar view of Iran, positing that between his dynamic personality and just the right economic incentives, the mad mullahs can be divested of their religious principles that now drive their world-wide mayhem and murder. For all of his intelligence, it would seem that Obama views the world through a na├»ve and distorted prism that, in the current circumstance, would prove not merely ineffectual, but highly dangerous.

2. Obama justifies leaving because "the same factors that led [him] to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge."

Obama loses all credibility when it comes to his utter refusal to credit the political successes brought about by the surge and to claim the lack thereof as a major part of his justification for leaving Iraq. Whatever planet Obama is occupying, it apparently is not one that receives news from Iraq. Moreover, it is generally considered prudent to first learn the facts before articulating a plan. Obama, who has not visited Iraq or Afghanistan to view the facts on the ground since a year prior to the surge, has nonetheless given us his plan in advance of his visits to those countries. It would seem he is having difficulty grasping the reasons why the normal sequential process is usually considered more apropos. Likewise it would seem that Obama has already decided to give far more weight to the current counsel of General Pew and Ambassador Rasmussen than he intends to give to the prospective counsel of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

When President Bush announced the surge in 2007, the President also announced a series of 18 benchmarks - at the insistence of Democrats - in order to provide a standard by which to measure progress in Iraq towards a stable nation. The benchmarks cut across the spectrum of sovereign activities, measuring security and politicl accomodation. Obama himself embraced those benchmarks as the appropriate standards of measurement. There is a video of him on Feb. 6, 2007, as he explain legislation he was proposing that would have used the "benchmarks" to govern redeployment of troops. His legislation would have halted the surge and begun redeployment unless the Iraqi government showed political progress as explicitly measured by the "benchmarks."

Today, with 15 of the 18 benchmarks met and the oil law being moot for the moment - the oil wealth is being shared and shared fairly – Obama has apparently forgotten his prior total embrace of the benchmarks as the standard for measuring political accommodation and progress in Iraq. He has replaced the objective benchmarks with nothing more than a demonstrably false and bald assertion that "political accommodation" has not occurred.

Then there are the "factors" that Obama first articulated against the surge. His claim that those factors are still extant is pure prevarication. The only factors he articulated in his initial opposition to the surge were that the surge would not only fail to produce long term security, but that the surge would likely have the opposite effect of further increasing sectarian tensions (final 2 minutes, 30 seconds of the video below taken on the eve of the State of the Union speech in 2007, where Bush announced the "surge). Not only have those "factors" proven false, but Obama has recently scrubbed language redolent of those factors from his website.

Obama then mouths the ridiculous meme that "only by redeploying our troops" is there a real hope to achieve "security and stability" in Iraq. He would couple this with a "diplomatic offensive" throughout the region to win guarantees for Iraq's stability. All of this is so fundamentally counterintuitive and unrealistic that its hard to imagine anyone saying it with a straight face. How many wars are won by running away from the fight. Name any battle in history won by raising the white flag and withdrawing from the battlefield? This is truly dangerous fantasy.

The path Obama proposes is similar in many respects to what we did with South Vietnam - negotiate peace and security guarantees with North Vietnam that North Vietnam had no intention of keeping, then withdrawing and allowing South Vietnam to sink or swim on its own. I am sure McCain can give Obama a history lesson in how that turned out. Indeed, given that Obama seems poised to take us down precisely the same path - i.e., negotiate utterly worthless security guarantees with Iran then withdraw from Iraq - I would strongly recommend reading Arthur Hermann's article in the WSJ about the many deadly ramifications that occurred as a result of our choice to abandon Vietnam. They pale in comparison to what would occur if we abandon Iraq to be reinfiltrated by al Qaeda and Lebanized by Iran.

3. Obama: "In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve."

Obama’s call for a debate on Iraq is hypocrisy writ large. Obama's actions show that the last thing he wants is a thorough and serious debate on Iraq. Obama has steadfastly refused to engage McCain in any lengthy series of debates and, as I posted yesterday, has gone AWOL, refusing to appear with McCain in a town hall debate before our soldiers and their families. The closest Obama wants to come to a debate over Iraq is to be interviewed on the topic by the sycophants of MSNBC.

Update: I see from finally getting over to Hot Air today that Obama gave a speech in essence regurgitating his NYT op-ed, minus the comments on Maliki supposed call for a withdraw. As to be expected, the most stinging rebuke came from the erudite Senator Lieberman whose comments were reported at HuffPo:

. . . Lieberman's remarks came just hours after Obama had delivered a foreign policy address of his own, in which the Illinois Democrat reiterated his desire to see a responsible phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq and a greater emphasis on the conflict in Afghanistan.

Working off of Obama's address, Lieberman accused him not only of being unwilling to acknowledge the success of the troop surge, but also for being inconsistent in his foreign policy approach. The 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee then offered nearly half a dozen direct questions to the Illinois Democrat that mimicked, in large part, talking points that the McCain campaign has been using with great frequency.

"Sen. Obama said this morning that he wants a foreign policy that is tough, smart and principled," said Lieberman. "This afternoon I want to ask my colleague who I respect and like a couple of direct questions: Was it tough when Sen. Obama voted to order U.S. troops to retreat from Iraq on a fixed timeline regardless of the recommendations of our military commanders or conditions on the ground? Was it smart when Sen. Obama opposed the surge and predicted that it would fail to improve our security? ... Was it tough and principled when Sen. Obama said he would be open to changing his plan on Iraq after going there and talking to General Petraeus, which I think was the right position, only to change that position hours later after being heatedly criticized by organizations like MoveOn.org? I say respectfully the answer to all those questions is, no."

Update 2: The Washington Post has weighed in with a scathing editorial on Mr. Obama's plan:

BARACK OBAMA yesterday accused President Bush and Sen. John McCain of rigidity on Iraq: "They said we couldn't leave when violence was up, they say we can't leave when violence is down." Mr. Obama then confirmed his own foolish consistency. Early last year, when the war was at its peak, the Democratic candidate proposed a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat forces in slightly more than a year. Yesterday, with bloodshed at its lowest level since the war began, Mr. Obama endorsed the same plan. After hinting earlier this month that he might "refine" his Iraq strategy after visiting the country and listening to commanders, Mr. Obama appears to have decided that sticking to his arbitrary, 16-month timetable is more important than adjusting to the dramatic changes in Iraq.

At the time he first proposed his timetable, Mr. Obama argued -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that U.S. troops could not stop a sectarian civil war. He conceded that a withdrawal might be accompanied by a "spike" in violence. Now, he describes as "an achievable goal" that "we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future -- a government that prevents sectarian conflict and ensures that the al-Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge." How will that "true success" be achieved? By the same pullout that Mr. Obama proposed when chaos in Iraq appeared to him inevitable.

. . . "What's missing in our debate," Mr. Obama said yesterday, "is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq." Indeed: The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war's outcome -- that Iraq "distracts us from every threat we face" and thus must be speedily evacuated regardless of the consequences. That's an irrational and ahistorical way to view a country at the strategic center of the Middle East, with some of the world's largest oil reserves. Whether or not the war was a mistake, Iraq's future is a vital U.S. security interest. If he is elected president, Mr. Obama sooner or later will have to tailor his Iraq strategy to that reality.

1 comment:

MathewK said...

That is a brilliant pic, describes him to a tee.