THE INITIAL MEDIA coverage of Barack Obama’s visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama’s own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq’s principal political leaders actually support his strategy.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, “does not want a timetable,” Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that “there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn’t take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki’s timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama’s. More significant, it would be “a timetable which Iraqis set” — not the Washington-imposed schedule that Mr. Obama has in mind. It would also be conditioned on the readiness of Iraqi forces, the same linkage that Gen. Petraeus seeks. As Mr. Obama put it, Mr. Maliki “wants some flexibility in terms of how that’s carried out.”
As the editorial further points out, Sunni leaders in Anbar said that they do not endorse the kind of precipitous withdrawal that Obama has in mind. Max Boot piles on, pointing out that Nuri al-Maliki’s military judgment has been proven wrong in the past and that military professionals in Iraq want a longer American stay–as do military professionals in the United States, like Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. And while the Post editorial is kind (too kind, perhaps) to attribute a sense of flexibility to Obama’s plans concerning the future of American forces in Iraq, it properly notes that Obama continues to stubbornly resist making concessions to the obvious fact that the surge has succeeded and that his judgment concerning the surge and the implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy was completely in error.
As I see it, it is not at all difficult for John McCain to say something along the lines of the following: “My plan is to get American troops out of Iraq by 2013 but if conditions on the ground allow me to accelerate their withdrawal, I will do so. I will be guided by the conditions on the ground and I will play very close attention to the recommendations of my military commanders.”
Barack Obama could reciprocate by saying something along the following lines: “My plan is to get American troops out of Iraq in 16 months once I am inaugurated, but if conditions on the ground force me to slow down their withdrawal, I will do so. I will be guided by the conditions on the ground and I will play very close attention to the recommendations of my military commanders.” But if Obama does say something along these lines, he will be deserted by his base–already angry about Obama’s capitulation on FISA reforms–faster than one can blink an eyelash.
So, because of Presidential politics, Obama does not say what a reasonable aspiring Commander-in-Chief would say regarding Iraq. He may be playing the electoral game smartly as a consequence, but he is boxing himself in something terrible if he ends up winning the Presidency. And the consequence of Obama’s decision to box himself in will be a poorly informed and executed withdrawal plan that will be precipitous in its nature, will allow Iraq to go to Hell in a handbasket after all of the hard-won gains that the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy have brough about, will throw the region into turmoil and will seriously undermine American national security interests, while ensuring that someday in the future, we will have to go back in order to deal with the fallout from Obama’s ill-conceived withdrawal plan.
Just something to consider as you go into the voting booth.