Earlier today, Jake Tapper did some fact-checking on Barack Obama’s assertion that he always said that an additional 20,000 troops in Iraq would have some positive effect on security. Tapper couldn’t find any evidence to support that assertion, especially in the time frame of the Congressional debate over the plan. William Amos found a speech from November 2006 that makes clear Obama’s faulty judgment on what more troops and new strategies and tactics could accomplish:
Dreams of democracy and hopes for a perfect government are now just that – dreams and hopes. We must instead turn our focus to those concrete objectives that are possible to attain – namely, preventing Iraq from becoming what Afghanistan once was, maintaining our influence in the Middle East, and forging a political settlement to stop the sectarian violence so that our troops can come home.
There is no reason to believe that more of the same will achieve these objectives in Iraq. And, while some have proposed escalating this war by adding thousands of more troops, there is little reason to believe that this will achieve these results either. It’s not clear that these troop levels are sustainable for a significant period of time, and according to our commanders on the ground, adding American forces will only relieve the Iraqis from doing more on their own. Moreover, without a coherent strategy or better cooperation from the Iraqis, we would only be putting more of our soldiers in the crossfire of a civil war.
Let me underscore this point. The American soldiers I met when I traveled to Iraq this year were performing their duties with bravery, with brilliance, and without question. They are doing so today. They have battled insurgents, secured cities, and maintained some semblance of order in Iraq. But even as they have carried out their responsibilities with excellence and valor, they have also told me that there is no military solution to this war. Our troops can help suppress the violence, but they cannot solve its root causes. And all the troops in the world won’t be able to force Shia, Sunni, and Kurd to sit down at a table, resolve their differences, and forge a lasting peace.
I have long said that the only solution in Iraq is a political one. To reach such a solution, we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control of their own country are coming to an end.
How wrong can Obama get in such a short segment of a speech? Let’s count the ways:
- Dreams and hopes of a perfect government are always just that — dreams and hopes. We don’t have perfect government here in the US, either. However, with the renewed commitment of American military strength, Nouri al-Maliki forged closer ties to Sunnis and Shi’ites and rejected Moqtada al-Sadr, and within eighteen months of that speech had established Iraqi sovereignty throughout most of the country — the sovereignty of a freely-elected central government.
- “And, while some have proposed escalating this war by adding thousands of more troops, there is little reason to believe that this will achieve these results either.” Actually, that was just part of the surge strategy. The extra troops were needed to hold areas after having them cleared, but the main part of the surge was the adoption of counterinsurgency strategies and tactics. And, it’s worth pointing out yet again, Obama wants to do in Afghanistan exactly what he rejects in this November 2006 speech.
- “ [T]here is no military solution to this war.” No one ever claimed that the war had a purely military solution. What war does? The Bush administration, John McCain, and General Petraeus knew that the eventual political solution would require security and stability to implement, though, and that a retreat in the spring of 2007 — which Obama proposed in this speech — would have eliminated any hope of either security or stability. That required a stronger ground force and smarter strategy.
- “To reach such a solution, we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control of their own country are coming to an end.” This is the most absurd point of all. The Iraqis didn’t have enough trained and seasoned security forces to bring stability. Retreat would not have forced them to work together — it would have forced the factions to arm themselves and go to war to protect themselves. The central government needed more time to develop the means to “take control of their own country”, and in 2008 we have seen the results.
The speech has more examples of Obama’s military genius. As I noted above, he demanded a “phased redeployment” to begin no later than early 2007, and suggested the Murtha plan of creating an “over-the-horizon force” that would get based in Northern Iraq or elsewhere in the region. Perhaps General Obama forgot to mention how we would maintain the lines of communication to an American force in the landlocked northern regions without maintaining bases of operation all the way from Umm Qasr through Baghdad. He certainly didn’t specify any other options, nor how we would move this rapid-response force back into the rest of Iraq without that kind of logistical support.
Obama also insisted that the reduction be accomplished with or without the approval of the Iraqi government:
The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces. He should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. When possible, this should be done in consultation with the Iraqi government – but it should not depend on Iraqi approval.
That’s what makes the hubbub over Maliki’s supposed agreement with Obama on timetables so laughable, even if it hadn’t been misreported. Obama made clear in 2006 that he didn’t care whether Maliki agreed with him or not on his withdrawal plan. And even the reduced force would not remain if Maliki and his government didn’t meet the Congressional benchmarks that later got applied, as if the American forces were a gift to the Iraqis and not there as part of our national interest in securing Iraq and providing a stable, democratic partner in the region.
This speech makes Obama’s position on the surge quite plain, and on Iraq in general. Not only did he get it wrong, but he outlined a strategy that would have turned Iraq into a failed state and allowed terrorists to build themselves a stronghold with enough oil revenue to hold the world hostage. He presented America with the same defeatist vision that Harry Reid and Jack Murtha tried so hard to sell, and which was proven spectacularly wrong over the next eighteen months. And had it not been for John McCain and George Bush, Barack Obama wouldn’t have dared visit Iraq last week.