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Obama’s Surge Purge By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Barack Obama styles himself the candidate of “change” and “hope”. So when his website “changed” to erase his well-known opposition to the Iraq War surge, maybe the Senator “hoped” no one would notice.

In this day and age, that’s a foolish, not to mention cynical, conceit, especially coming from the young, self-proclaimed “progressive” Democrat. And it backfired. Even the Los Angeles Times picked up the small but telling story after it first broke in the blogosphere.

“This last weekend,” the Wake Up Americans blog reported on July 15, “Barack Obama's official website was ‘purged’ of his longstanding criticisms of the troop surge...”

That “surge purge” came shortly before the candidate’s belated “fact finding” visit to Iraq, his first trip in two years to the nation whose impending doom he’d so confidently and frequently predicted.

Obama aide Wendy Morigi insisted that the web site deletions were simply part of “normal activity to update the site as events and situations change.”

But what about updating one’s views on the most important foreign policy issue of the times, “as events and situations change”? Apparently, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President doesn’t consider that a priority. Obama’s denunciations of the Iraq War and the surge strategy persist, even after his trip to Iraq – a trip that would have been impossible had the surge been a failure; the very leaders he shook hands with in Baghdad would have been killed, jailed or exiled under Saddam Hussein.

Despite his campaign’s attempts to cover up the facts, Barack Obama’s firm opposition to the surge is well documented. Back on January, 2007, Obama opined that, with Sunni and Shia factions unwilling to compromise, the threat of U.S. troop withdrawal was America’s only leverage. Rather than bring security to the region, Obama insisted, “I think it will do the reverse.”

He declared:

"We can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops: I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."

Obama based his campaign for President in part on his long standing opposition to the Iraq War and the surge, in contrast to his fellow Democrat candidates. Over a year later, with the surge strategy achieving positive results, Obama’s top adviser, David Axelrod, denied that his boss had ever said the surge would fail, despite video proof to the contrary.

Those positive results include the achievement of 15 out of the highly touted 18 political benchmarks for success. This month, violence is down 90 percent over 2007 -- its lowest point in the last four years. The estimated 12,000 al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq in May dropped to approximately 1,200 by July – an astonishing accomplishment in only two months. The chaotic Anbar province is experiencing an “awakening” of peace and prosperity. U.S. trained Iraqi security forces are policing more than half the nation’s provinces, and plan to take charge of them all by the end of this year. Oil production is back up to 2.5 million barrels a day, and oil revenue sharing has begun. Iraq recently normalized relations between Kuwait and other countries in the region.

“To be sure,” editorialized Investors Business Daily, “there is still violence, internecine conflicts between tribes and clans, sporadic jousting between rival militias, and of course, an ongoing struggle between Shias and Sunnis. But then, that pretty much describes the last 1,000 years of Iraq's history.”

In an interview with ABC's Terry Moran on July 21, Obama was asked:

Moran: “(...) U.S. combat casualties have plummeted, five this month so far, compared with 78 last July, and Baghdad has a pulse again. If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you -- would you support the surge?"

Obama: "No, because -- keep in mind that -"

Moran: "You wouldn't?"

Obama: "Well, no, keep -- these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult . Hindsight is 20/20. I think what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate, because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with."

Obama explained that he hadn’t anticipated the so-called Sunni Awakening, and insisted that such positive developments “came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops,” implying that any gains were simply an inexplicable coincidence. “My batting average” in terms of making foreign policy predictions, Obama told Moran, “is still pretty darn good.” Asked if he thinks the U.S. will win the war, Obama responds wanly, “I don’t think we have any choice.”

To her credit, CBS news anchor Katie Couric (of all people) pressed Obama on this issue on July 22, right after he’d returned from his tour of the Iraq and Afghanistan:

Couric: But talking microcosmically, did the surge, the addition of 30,000 additional troops ... help the situation in Iraq?

Obama: Katie, as … you've asked me three different times, and I have said repeatedly that there is no doubt that our troops helped to reduce violence. There's no doubt.

Couric: But yet you're saying … given what you know now, you still wouldn't support it … so I'm just trying to understand this.

Obama: Because … it's pretty straightforward. By us putting $10 billion to $12 billion a month, $200 billion, that's money that could have gone into Afghanistan. Those additional troops could have gone into Afghanistan. That money also could have been used to shore up a declining economic situation in the United States. That money could have been applied to having a serious energy security plan so that we were reducing our demand on oil, which is helping to fund the insurgents in many countries. So those are all factors that would be taken into consideration in my decision-- to deal with a specific tactic or strategy inside of Iraq.

Couric: And I really don't mean to belabor this, Senator, because I'm really, I'm trying … to figure out your position. Do you think the level of security in Iraq …

Obama: Yes.

Couric … would exist today without the surge?

Obama: Katie, I have no idea what would have happened had we applied my approach, which was to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation. So this is all hypotheticals. What I can say is that there's no doubt that our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq. I said that, not just today, not just yesterday, but I've said that previously. What that doesn't change is that we've got to have a different strategic approach if we're going to make America as safe as possible.

So Obama’s stance against the surge has remained firm, which at least has the advantage of being consistent. Many of his fellow Democrats didn’t think the U.S. should send any troops to Iraq, then complained that not enough had been deployed in the first place, then opposed the surge strategy designed to put more troops on the ground.

Consistency has its virtues, but good judgment must count for more. Obama won his party’s nomination because he was against the Iraq war from the very beginning. This, he insisted, proved that what he might lack in experience, he made up for in superior judgment. However, current events on the ground prove that Obama was simply wrong about the surge, and is deeply reluctant to admit it. Poor judgment and intransigence is merely embarrassing in a Presidential candidate; it could be fatal in a Commander in Chief.

John Dickerson, chief political correspondent at Slate.com (hardly a hotbed of pro-McCain enthusiasms) asked pointedly:

“If Obama was wrong about the tactical gains that would be made by the new strategy and wrong about how the Iraqi political leaders would react, can his larger theory about how Iraqis will respond to a troop pullout remain intact? Perhaps, but he has the burden of explanation. Does he elide contradictions, claim they're irrelevant, and generally spin? In his interview with NBC's Brian Williams, he suggested that he'd always said the surge would decrease violence in Iraq. That's not just spin. It's not true.” 

Michael E. O’Hanlon, a Democratic defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, has confessed that he’s “livid” about Obama’s continued insistence on a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq by 2010:

"To say you're going to get out on a certain schedule -- regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground -- is the height of absurdity. I'm not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn't be president. I'll leave that to someone else."

Unlike his party’s presumptive nominee, O’Hanlon has admitted publicly and repeatedly that his expert opinions on the surge’s inevitable failure turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Why his candidate can’t do the same is more than a mystery. It is deeply troubling.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.


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