AT some point, Democrats decided that facts didn't matter anymore in
Iraq. And they nominated just the man to reflect the party's new
anti-factual consensus on the war, a Barack Obama who has fixedly ignored changing conditions on the ground.
It's gotten harder as the success of the surge has become
undeniable, but - despite some wobbles - Obama is sticking to his plan
for a 16-month timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. He musters
dishonesty, evasion and straw-grasping to try to create a patina of
respectability around a scandalously unserious position.
Obama spokesmen now say everyone knew that President Bush's troop
surge would create more security. This is blatantly false: Obama said
in early 2007 that nothing in the surge plan would "make a significant
dent in the sectarian violence," and the new strategy would "not prove
to be one that changes the dynamics significantly." He referred to the
surge derisively as "baby-sit[ting] a civil war."
Now that the civil war has all but ended, he wants to claim
retroactive clairvoyance. In a New York Times op-ed, he credits our
troops' heroism and new tactics with bringing down the violence. Yet
our troops have always been heroic; what made the difference was the
surge strategy that he lacked the military judgment - or political
courage - to support.
Obama states that "the same factors that led me to oppose the surge
still hold true," citing the strain on the military, the deterioration
in Afghanistan and the fiscal drain. All are important, but
pale compared with the achievement in Iraq - beating back al Qaeda and
Iranian-backed militias and restoring a semblance of order to a country
on the verge of a collapse from which only our enemies could've
Politically, Obama has to notionally support defeating al Qaeda in
Iraq, so even after he's executed his 16-month withdrawal, he says
there'll be a "residual force" of American troops to take on "remnants
of al Qaeda." How can he be so sure there'll only be "remnants"? If
there are, it'll be because the surge he opposed has pushed al Qaeda to
the brink. The more precipitously we withdraw our troops, the more
likely it is to mount a comeback.
Obama treats as a vindication a recent statement by Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling for a timeline for withdrawal of US
forces. But neither Maliki nor anyone around him talks of an
unconditional 16-month timeline for withdrawal as being plausible. His
defense minister says Iraqis will be ready to handle internal security
on their own in 2012 and external security by 2020.
The Iraqis most enthusiastic about Obama's plan surely are al Qaeda
members, Sadrists, Iranian agents and sectarian killers of every
stripe. The prospect of a US president suddenly letting up on them has
to be the best cause for hope they've had in months. His withdrawal
would immediately embolden every malign actor in Iraq and increase
their sway in Iraqi politics.
Obama sticks to the badly dated contention that Iraqis "have not
reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the
surge." In fact, roughly 15 of 18 political benchmarks have been met by
the Iraqis - progress Obama threatens to reverse.
Obama loves to say that we have to withdraw from Iraq
"responsibly." There's nothing responsible about his plan. US
commanders on the ground say it may not even be logistically possible.
Does Obama even care? He says that when he's elected he'd give the
military a new mission - to end the war. Conditions in Iraq, let alone
winning, are marginalia.
There are two possible interpretations: Either Obama is dangerously
sincere or he's a cynical operator playing duplicitous politics with
matters of war and peace. Watch this space.