Kissinger On Iraq

The thoughts and ideas of the former Secretary of State are always worth reading so it should come as no surprise that I would highlight his latest on Iraq. Key graf:

Over the past year, many have proposed setting a deadline for withdrawal. Proponents have argued that a date certain would compel the Iraqi government to accelerate the policy of reconciliation; would speed the end of the war; and would enable the United States to concentrate its efforts on more strategically important regions, such as Afghanistan. Above all, they argued, the war was lost, and withdrawal would represent the least costly way to deal with the debacle.

These premises have been overtaken by events. Almost all objective observers agree that major progress has been made on all three fronts of the Iraq war: Al-Qaeda, the Sunni jihadist force recruited largely from outside the country, seems on the run in Iraq; the indigenous Sunni insurrection attempting to restore Sunni predominance has largely died down; and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has, at least temporarily, mastered the Shiite militias that were challenging its authority. After years of disappointment, we face the need to shift gears mentally to consider emerging prospects of success.

(Emphasis mine.) Quite so. Of course, when it comes to the Presidential candidates, John McCain has shifted gears to consider emerging prospects of success. Indeed, he worked to make it possible for the mental gear shift to take place, thanks to his advocacy for and on behalf of the surge and the implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy. Barack Obama, meanwhile, seems to be stuck in the conventional wisdom of 2006 and hasn’t moved his thinking past that timeline. A President needs to be adaptable to changes in circumstances and yet, Obama has shown no willingness whatsoever to admit that he was wrong about the surge. Quite the contrary; and indeed, he remains resolved to maintain that he is right to continue to disparage the surge’s effects, all of the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. This, of course, is the candidate of the “reality-based community.”

I recognize that it is difficult for a politician to admit error. It is especially difficult to do so during the course of a Presidential campaign. But Obama runs the risk of looking terminally silly if he continues to deny the effects of the surge and the counterinsurgency plan. His political opponents may not mind having Obama look terminally silly, but what happens if he is elected President and “terminally silly” becomes “national policy”?

Oh, and let us make sure to emphasize anew the following key point from Kissinger’s op-ed:

Establishing a deadline is the surest way to undermine the hopeful prospects. It will encourage largely defeated internal groups to go underground until a world more congenial to their survival arises with the departure of American forces. Al-Qaeda will have a deadline against which to plan a full-scale resumption of operations. And it will give Iran an incentive to strengthen its supporters in the Shiite community for the period after the American withdrawal. Establishing a fixed deadline would also dissipate assets needed for the diplomatic endgame.

From John McCain’s perspective, Kissinger’s arguments have the virtue of coinciding with his own. That should come as little surprise; as Kissinger notes, he has endorsed McCain and he advises the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee as well. But that doesn’t make his points–and McCain’s–any less right.