Obama’s Plan For Iraq
Barack Obama takes to the op-ed pages of the NYT to present his new plan for Iraq which is conveniently his old plan for Iraq. He sees Nuri al-Maliki’s proposal for a a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq as “an enormous opportunity.”
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. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.
Bush and McCain have both said, repeatedly, that we’d accede to the wishes of the Iraqi government. They merely think a too-rapid withdrawal would be a bad idea and undo the recent gains that even Obama admits were achieved by the Surge which he opposed.
As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. 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.
The problem with a timetable remains the same: It ignores facts on the ground. In recent months, Iraq has been much more stable and American casualties are now lower than they are in Afghanistan despite many more troops engaged. It may well be that we can remove most of our forces in two years. But we simply have no way of knowing that now. Indeed, Obama admits as much:
In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.
Fair enough. Indeed, all this sounds sensible. But why, then, continue to hammer the “sixteen months” theme if it’s not set in stone? Sheer political pandering?
Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.
He didn’t quite say that. But, sure, our heavy commitment in Iraq limits our options elsewhere. Then again, Afghanistan is a NATO mission and Iraq is not. Why not continue to press our NATO Allies to pick up their fair share of a burden they committed themselves to? After all, isn’t Obama going to have some magic diplomatic mojo?
The bizarre thing is that, as enticing as declaring victory and going home sounded a few months ago, it appears that things are finally on the right track in Iraq. While calling Obama’s plan “surrender” is demagogic, it could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
UPDATE (Dodd): Maliki’s statements misreported:
US presidential contender Barack Obama has repeatedly seized on statements attributed to Iraqi leaders to support his call for a troop withdrawal deadline….
The prime minister was widely quoted as saying that in the negotiations with the Americans on a Status of Forces Agreement to regulate the US troop presence from next year, “the direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on a timetable for their withdrawal”. … There is only one problem. It is not what Mr Maliki actually said.
In an audio recording of his remarks, heard by the BBC, the prime minister did not use the word “withdrawal”. What he actually said was: “The direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on programming their presence.”
Mr Maliki’s own office had inserted the word “withdrawal” in the written version, replacing the word “presence”.
The piece goes on to note some disagreement within the Iraqi government on this point, including some very Obama-esque rolling back on some points. Obviously Obama can’t be blamed for relying on Maliki’s own office as to the Prime Minister’s position. But it does tend to underscore the broader point: Making firm plans right now for the withdrawal our troops is an exercise in political pandering, not rational policymaking.