Obama on Iraq: Where’s the beef?

posted at 9:40 am on July 14, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

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.”

Obama continues:

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.


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Obama is making it up as he goes along, and it gets more obvious the more he’s pressed for answers.

Exactly. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign is doing a piss-poor job of getting that point across to the American voting public.

AZCoyote on July 14, 2008 at 9:50 AM

Obama’s team has a broken compass on Iraq. They cant decide which way to go and they can not feed the words to Obama. He is lost and it shows.

Nelsa on July 14, 2008 at 9:51 AM

And why does Obama call Iraq “Mesopotamia” anyway?

So that he can refer to Iran as “Persia”; then when he tells us he’s opening a dialogue with the “Persians”, most folks won’t realize what he means…

Frozen Tex on July 14, 2008 at 9:52 AM

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.

But he does not have to the backbone to include, “all measures that I have voted against.”

Message to Team McCain……For your next commercial, take this passage and flash it up on the screen. Below it, show his voting record and how he “supports” the troops.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on July 14, 2008 at 10:01 AM

My favorite part is this bit:

But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

See?! All those times you heard “flip-flop” and “Obama” were just misdirection! It’s all part of the VRWC!

Heh. Extra lumpy!

MikeZero on July 14, 2008 at 10:03 AM

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.

And which service members would these be? The tens of thousands of support troops as they wind their way out of “Mesopotamia“?

yakwill83 on July 14, 2008 at 10:03 AM

Exactly. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign is doing a piss-poor job of getting that point across to the American voting public.

AZCoyote on July 14, 2008 at 9:50 AM

The Senate is a gentlemen’s club, a fraternity of royalty. Harsh words are rarely spoken in public. It would be so,.. common.

a capella on July 14, 2008 at 10:10 AM

Conversation overheard in Baghdad in the near future …..

Officer: “General Petraeus, Barack Hussein Obama is here to see you.”

Petraeus: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any time today to meet with any local government officials, I’m expecting a U.S. Senator.

fogw on July 14, 2008 at 10:17 AM

Prov 14:7
Go from the presence of a foolish man,
When you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.

Vorian

Vorian on July 14, 2008 at 10:19 AM

This clown just strung together a load of half-baked, years old Democrat talking points and threw it at a wall at a desperate, half-assed attempt to fool people into thinking he has any business whatsoever running for President.

This guy couldn’t successfully manage the automotive section of the Peoria Wal-Mart, yet he’s considered Presidential material.

Democrats should be walking around with bags on their heads for nominating this mope.

NoDonkey on July 14, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Obama’s trying to be centrist and realistic while at the same time being ignorant of reality AND trying to appease/satisfy/quell/maintain the support of the nutroots (see also KP’s piece in the NYP). He can’t do it. If he wants to be a leader, if he wants to be a uniter, the first thing he’s got to do is unite the nation around the reality of the war on terror, and that doesn’t mean convincing the world there is no threat while there’s a giant hole in the ground in Shanksville, PA and NYC. It means convincing the nutroots that not everything GWB has said has been BS. Some of the bad stuff out there…is really bad, and all too real.

scottm on July 14, 2008 at 10:23 AM

I love the part about ‘no expert or military soldier’ and so here is the ad for McCain, right after Obama makes that comment there is a clip of McCain endorsing the surge. I can’t think of a better contrast between the two, Obama the clueless and McCain the expert.

mustng66 on July 14, 2008 at 10:25 AM

I think Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.

It’s a combination of hucksterism dishing feel-good platitudes to an electorate he’s betting is too ignorant to grasp the issues at hand, dismissal of serious criticism as mere snark, while planning to ‘punish’ America for it’s success by hamstringing it from being successful in the future.

There may be parts of this he’s making up on the fly, but he and his handlers/sycophants aren’t truly concerned because of the basis of the overall stragtegy – that they’ll be able to pull it off.

As for McCain not shellacking him on a daily basis right now for this – there’s a strategy at play there, too. By engaging, seriously, and hard, on these issues too early, the probable perceived downside is inoculating the general public to just how dysfunctional and dangerous Barry’s agenda really is – save it up for after Labor day, when people are paying somewhat more attention, and then unload with all of it, to provide a clear, “fresh” perspective of exactly what this charlatan stands for, doesn’t stand for, thinks he knows, has thrown under the bus, and been demonstrably wrong over the extremely short tenure of his political career, to render irrelevant that common politic dismissal of it being “old news”.

After the smoke clears, if Team Barry is able to top Dukakas’ numbers, it’ll be an amazing (and deeply disturbing) feat.

Wind Rider on July 14, 2008 at 10:26 AM

Political cartoon I saw in my local newspaper this weekend says it all: Bumper sticker reading CHANGE (in positions) WE CAN BELIEVE IN!

pilamaye on July 14, 2008 at 10:36 AM

I wish someone would ask Obama, “which brigades, specifically, would you withdraw first, and from where?”

Then, “how would you compensate for the vacuum you left after those brigades have been withdrawn?”

My guess is that he has no idea what he’s talking about, and would have no answer if asked off the cuff. Even at this late date, he’s probably just mumbling the party line.

Blacksheep on July 14, 2008 at 10:36 AM

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.

Braaak, Braaak, Braaak.

duggersd on July 14, 2008 at 10:57 AM

“Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia”
I think that is the specific name of a particular group, which would be different from “Al Qaeda” operating in Iraq [= Mesopotamia].
Then again, there may be folks just tying linguistic shoelaces together to “prove” that Al Quaeda” is not in Iraq [or wasn't until our military 'forced' them to come to Iraq]. It’s easy, see, no Al Quaeda in Iraq, only Al Quaeda in Mesopotemia operating in Iraq.
If this hurts too much, take two aspirin and stop whining…

LaMonte on July 14, 2008 at 11:00 AM

he reiterates his timetable for redeployment without acknowledging the impossible logistics it suggests.

That bird don’t fly.

During 1971 alone over 177,000 American troops were withdrawn from RVN and there was no great big sweat worked up in doing it either.

MB4 on July 14, 2008 at 11:04 AM

but he forgets to mention that the same assessment shows their air force and navy to be years away from viability.

What does Iraq need an Air Force and Navy for? To join their Islamic brethren in an attack on Israel?

MB4 on July 14, 2008 at 11:08 AM

During 1971 alone over 177,000 American troops were withdrawn from RVN and there was no great big sweat worked up in doing it either.

This is true but I don’t believe it figures into the equation. In 1971 the overwhelming majority of our ground forces were truly “foot soldiers”. Not much heavy equipment to speak of (how many armored units were in Viet Nam as compared to Iraq?). All you have to do is put them on an airliner back to the states. Nowadays, you’re dealing with all kinds of armor, from Hummers to Strykers, Bradleys to Abrams.

To be clear, I’m certainly not saying there was a dearth of heavy equipment in Viet Nam. I’m simply saying that it was not on a scale with Iraq.

I’d imagine that it’s a completely different monster from an embarkation standpoint.

MikeZero on July 14, 2008 at 11:18 AM

That bird don’t fly.

During 1971 alone over 177,000 American troops were withdrawn from RVN and there was no great big sweat worked up in doing it either.

MB4 on July 14, 2008 at 11:04 AM

Are you saying the military logistics people who said this was not possible without leaving all our equipment are wrong? Or, are you advocating leaving the equipment?

a capella on July 14, 2008 at 11:27 AM

As Americans become embarrassed for being patriotic and hide their belief in God for not wanting to appear ignorant, then why would a shallow marketing scam by a democratic political machine out of Chicago named Obama not be the new “messiah”.

volsense on July 14, 2008 at 11:28 AM

Obama- the Surge won’t work, but if it does I support it.

(Until I have to throw it under the bus.)

profitsbeard on July 14, 2008 at 11:34 AM

Are you saying the military logistics people who said this was not possible without leaving all our equipment are wrong?

a capella on July 14, 2008 at 11:27 AM

Whomever it was that ABC, or whoever, talked to, or said they talked to, is obviously wrong. To say that all the equipment, or even all heavy equipment, would have to be left behind is absurd.

Again, in 1971 alone (12 months), over 177,000 American troops were withdrawn from RVN , and without breaking that much of a sweat, and all the equipment was not left behind. By next January there will probably be somewhere around 120,000 (??? )American troops in Iraq.

MB4 on July 14, 2008 at 11:47 AM

This clown just strung together a load of half-baked, years old Democrat talking points and threw it at a wall at a desperate, half-assed attempt to fool people into thinking he has any business whatsoever running for President.

This guy couldn’t successfully manage the automotive section of the Peoria Wal-Mart, yet he’s considered Presidential material.

Democrats should be walking around with bags on their heads for nominating this mope.

NoDonkey on July 14, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Agreed, this guy doesn’t even have very good propaganda writers. This is an embarrassing effort from a man who says his superior judgment is why he should be President.

rockmom on July 14, 2008 at 11:50 AM

This is the Big Muddle. How large will these residual forces be?

Maybe as long as 100 years…
But he did say these thing:

In a March speech, he said: “We will have to make tactical adjustments, listening to our commanders on the ground, to ensure that our interests in a stable Iraq are met, and to make sure that our troops are secure.”

- In June, on MSNBC, he said: “I’ve also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments.”

right2bright on July 14, 2008 at 11:58 AM

This is true but I don’t believe it figures into the equation. In 1971 the overwhelming majority of our ground forces were truly “foot soldiers”.

“Foot Soldiers”? Infantry? In RVN? That is not correct. Not even close.

Not much heavy equipment to speak of (how many armored units were in Viet Nam as compared to Iraq?).

Not that many tanks in RVN, I don’t think that there are all that many tanks in Iraq right now, but there was a lot of artillery in RVN, much of which was withdrawn in around 1970, when about 140,000 troops were withdrawn.

All you have to do is put them on an airliner back to the states

A lot of the heavy stuff went by ship.

Nowadays, you’re dealing with all kinds of armor, from Hummers to Strykers, Bradleys to Abrams.

They were brought there, the can be brought out. I would think that in whatever decade we withdraw a fair amount of that would be turned over to the Iraqis anyway.

To be clear, I’m certainly not saying there was a dearth of heavy equipment in Viet Nam. I’m simply saying that it was not on a scale with Iraq.

That’s probably fairly true, but as I said, 177,000 troops were brought out in the 12 months of 1971 alone (That’s at a rate of almost 240,000 for a 16 month period and it doesn’t sound like Obama means to withdraw all troops, down to zero)) and by January, 2009 there will be around maybe 120,000, as even the Bush administration is making noises about going down to “pre-surge” levels by then.

I’d imagine that it’s a completely different monster from an embarkation standpoint.

MikeZero on July 14, 2008 at 11:18 AM

Different, yes, but by no stretch completely different.

If 177,000 troops could be brought back from RVN in 12 months, then 120,000? should be able to get out of Iraq in 16 months. They don’t have to come back all the way to the U.S. during that time. A lot of equipment could just go to Kuwait for a time. And remember, the claims are that all heavy equipment would have to be left behind, not some.

MB4 on July 14, 2008 at 12:08 PM

Again, in 1971 alone (12 months), over 177,000 American troops were withdrawn from RVN , and without breaking that much of a sweat, and all the equipment was not left behind. By next January there will probably be somewhere around 120,000 (??? )American troops in Iraq.

Sounds to me like you weren’t one of the ones doing the sweating.

The Russians were giddy with glee at the equipment and facilities we left behind in Vietnam. Cam Rahn Bay very quickly became their de facto year round deep water ice free port for naval ops.

Also, at the time, people just didn’t really seem to care about what had been left, what went over the sides of the carriers during the evacuation of the remaining US personnel during the fall of Saigon (which only occurred because the McGovern Democrats in Congress put a noose around the South Vietnamese neck and kicked the stool out from under them. The liberal version of events, of course, is that there was no price too great, no burden too heavy to bear, in order to turn tail and run away as quickly as possible and then pretend it was the right thing to do – and so there really was no direct accounting of the material losses from their phenomenally stupid approach to ‘resolving’ the conflict in Southeast Asia.

Which, if you think about it, is about the way they want to ‘resolve’ Iraq. We should take them at their word when they described Iraq as another Vietnam – in their minds it is – a chance to engineer a humiliating and costly defeat to the United States and a Free Market, Classically liberal Western Civilization in the mold of their most notorious achievement – the debacle which was the Communist takeover of Vietnam and other parts of SouthEast Asia.

In that case, many of them probably thought the ‘good guys’ ‘won’. Which, given Barry’s turn of phrase for what he calls Iraq, might not be too far from the way he thinks things should turn out there, with the ‘good guys’ being Islamic hard liners.

It’s not too much of a stretch to picture the results of the photo op for the Middle East Peace, Brotherhood, and Friendship Conference of 2011, with Barry, Mookie, and Ahkmadin’ttaketimetolearntospellit all in a group hug.

The only question is – will Michelle burqa up, or join the party going on under the bus?

Wind Rider on July 14, 2008 at 12:44 PM

They don’t have to come back all the way to the U.S. during that time. A lot of equipment could just go to Kuwait for a time. And remember, the claims are that all heavy equipment would have to be left behind, not some.

Which makes me wonder? Jumpin Jack Murtha, is that you? Not all the way back to the US? How about a nice interim stop in, say, Okinawa?

Wind Rider on July 14, 2008 at 12:50 PM

McCain again has the perfect opening to paint Obama as the sissyboy he is. McCain should assert that the President of US cannot hide from strong men as Obama is doing now, espcially after saying he’d debate anywhere, any time.

drjohn on July 14, 2008 at 1:25 PM

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.

Hmmmm. Sounds a lot like “We will stand down as the Iraqi army stands up.” Who have I heard say that before?

Bush was right.

VolMagic on July 14, 2008 at 1:46 PM

Pointing out his contradiction is in fact, a distraction.

ThePrez on July 14, 2008 at 4:00 PM

And why does Obama call Iraq “Mesopotamia” anyway?

So that no one will notice when he calls Israel “Palestine”…

Jaibones on July 14, 2008 at 4:20 PM

The arugula activist and cappuccino candidate [Peace be Upon His Name] opened his recent Op-ed essay with this: “The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity.”
But Maliki actually said nothing of the sort; sorry, but the keyword ‘timetable‘ was not used. The correction via the BBC is explained here:
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/257423
Acting without thought and verification is frightening in someone who wants to have his finger on the big red button…

LaMonte on July 15, 2008 at 3:06 PM