Diary

Is The Tide Turning?

Barack Obama’s days of having his Iraq policy uncritically accepted by the punditocracy appear to have come to an end:

BARACK OBAMA yesterday accused President Bush and Sen. John McCain of rigidity on Iraq: “They said we couldn’t leave when violence was up, they say we can’t leave when violence is down.” Mr. Obama then confirmed his own foolish consistency. Early last year, when the war was at its peak, the Democratic candidate proposed a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat forces in slightly more than a year. Yesterday, with bloodshed at its lowest level since the war began, Mr. Obama endorsed the same plan. After hinting earlier this month that he might “refine” his Iraq strategy after visiting the country and listening to commanders, Mr. Obama appears to have decided that sticking to his arbitrary, 16-month timetable is more important than adjusting to the dramatic changes in Iraq.

Mr. Obama’s charge against the Republicans was not entirely fair, since Mr. Bush has overseen the withdrawal of five American brigades from Iraq this year, and Mr. McCain has suggested that he would bring most of the rest of the troops home by early 2013. Mr. Obama’s timeline would end in the summer of 2010, a year or two before the earliest dates proposed recently by members of the Iraqi government. The real difference between the various plans is not the dates but the conditions: Both the Iraqis and Mr. McCain say the withdrawal would be linked to the ability of Iraqi forces to take over from U.S. troops, as they have begun to do. Mr. Obama’s strategy allows no such linkage — his logic is that a timetable unilaterally dictated from Washington is necessary to force Iraqis to take responsibility for the country.

An excellent point made in an excellent editorial that really should be read in full. Equally worth reading is this:

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq’s development.

The result is that we have an extraordinary – but fleeting – opportunity to advance America’s security and the stability of a vital region of the world.

Of course, there is a warning that we must heed as well from this second editorial:

The most serious error would be to withdraw American forces too rapidly. That would strengthen the resolve of both al Qaeda and Iran to persevere in their efforts to disrupt the young Iraqi state and weaken the resolve of those Iraqis, particularly in the Iraqi Security Forces, who are betting their lives on continued American assistance.

The blunt fact is this. In Iraq, al Qaeda is on the ropes, and the Shiite militias are badly off-balance. Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009.

The short version of this last passage is as follows: The Presidential election of 2008 is immensely important and will likely serve to determine whether or not the United States prevails in its reconstruction effort in Iraq.