Barack Obama takes to the pages of the New York Times to attempt another explanation of his Iraq policy, but winds up back in the Big Muddle. He starts by seizing on Nouri al-Maliki’s call for a timetable for American withdrawal and heralds the success of the surge without understanding the connection between the two, and he reiterates his timetable for redeployment without acknowledging the impossible logistics it suggests. In all, it is a tour de force of ignorance and vacillation.
For starters, he hails the success of the surge without admitting that he made the wrong call when it was proposed:
In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.
In January 2007, when it counted, Obama demonstrated his incompetence on military matters. Later, his campaign tried lying about what Obama said to cover it up:
“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.”
Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.
This is poppycock. Iraq would not be in any position to reach any kind of political accommodation now if we hadn’t remained in Iraq the last two years. The reason Iraq has a shot at this now is because it has a viable army able to impose the will of the central government in areas previously held by militias — and that still relies on American logistical and tactical support, especially air power. Obama notes that General James Dubik says that the army and police will be ready to stand on their own by 2009, but he forgets to mention that the same assessment shows their air force and navy to be years away from viability.
Does Commander Obama know how critical air power has been to Iraqi efforts in Basra, Mosul, and Amarah? Or how badly the Iraqis will need air competence for its national security?
We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months.
Only if we leave our equipment behind. Our combat divisions can’t function properly without their heavy equipment. Obama complains that the military is overstretched, but disarming them and confining them to American bases won’t make us more combat-ready; it will make us less so.
In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve.
The Fort Hood Consortium invited Obama to do just that in August. Obama ran away from the town-hall forum, apparently because John McCain will attend it.
After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.
This is the Big Muddle. How large will these residual forces be? Obama doesn’t say. If we need to keep them there to fight al-Qaeda, doesn’t that make Iraq a “central front” in the war, despite his assertion that Iraq never was such a front? Our enemy is AQ, and we’re fighting them in Iraq — that makes it a central front, and Osama bin Laden has certainly acknowledged it to be that as well. And shouldn’t we have combat troops to fight AQ in Iraq? And why does Obama call Iraq “Mesopotamia” anyway? The only people doing that are the terrorists; Iraqis call their nation Iraq.
Obama doesn’t address any of the serious logistical and tactical concerns raised by this bumper-sticker policy, as outlined in the New York Times. He just asks that we trust his judgment even though he proved himself incompetent over the last eighteen months, and relies on a strategy he opposed to justify a pullout now. Obama is making it up as he goes along, and it gets more obvious the more he’s pressed for answers.
Update: James Joyner isn’t buying it, either.
Update II: My good friend Jazz Shaw shows how to disagree without becoming disagreeable while he “disagree[s] on virtually every point.” In response, my issue with Obama’s insistence on an almost-impossible deadline is that it speaks to his ignorance on the subject matter. He got the surge wrong, and now he’s showing that he doesn’t understand the logistical implications of his own policy, even though he’s had months to get this right, if not years. Why should we trust someone with such a record of incompetence on this issue? Iraq has been one of the biggest issues in American politics over the last five years, if not the biggest, and Obama still hasn’t taken any time to study it.
In reality, we’re going to draw down troops in Iraq regardless of which man takes office in January. The rise of the Iraqi Army makes that inevitable and desirable. We need to have people in charge who understand how to make those changes more effectively and more responsibly — and Obama keeps proving that he fails in those qualifications.
Be sure to read all of Jazz’s post on this.