Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama Recognizes Obvious--Needs To Sell It

It was only a matter of time before the Obama campaign saw the obvious on Iraq and Obama came out with the needed update in a New York Times op-ed just today.

There are two points that are obvious.

The first point is that the Bush surge has resulted in a solidification of the Malik government and general progress. Perhaps more surprising is the second point that the progress of the surge also makes the argument for withdrawing from Iraq stronger than ever.

The Bush administration and the pro-war faction had imagined that progress for the surge would justify a long-continued occupation of Iraq. However, it turned out that the significance of the surge was to remove the main obstacle to withdrawal. The greatest weakness of the anti-war argument had been that a U. S. withdrawal would leave Iraq in a Hobbesian nightmare of a war of all against all. The situation in Iraq was so bad at the end of 2006 that withdrawing could have been legitimately seen as abdicating our responsibility for fixing problems that we ourselves caused by our invasion.

The success of the surge solved that problem. The Maliki government has established a commanding position in relation to the Shiite militias. Sunnis have stopped revolting and al-Qaida is no longer a dynamic factor. Moreover, Iraq is awash in cash as a result of rising oil prices. Now, the United States can now withdraw its military forces without the specter of abject failure hanging over the mission. We can withdraw with no fear of Iraq falling into a Somalia-type collapse, no fear of a general genocide of the Sunni population, and no fear of an al-Qaeda take-over.

In other words, we can withdraw with some of our dignity intact. Not all of our dignity. After all more than one hundred thousand Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and two million more have been driven into exile. But the U. S. has managed to achieve some stability.

Even more to the point, the Iraqis want us out. According to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:
“The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a
timetable on their withdrawal,” al-Maliki said, according to a statement released by his office. “In all cases, the basis for any agreement will be respect for the full sovereignty of Iraq.”
Last week, talks on a continued Status of Forces Agreement broke down. In a typical over-reach, the Bush administration wanted control of Iraqi air space, full control over U. S. combat missions, and immunity from prosecution for American troops AND private contractors. As a result, the Iraqi government not only rejected the U. S. proposal, they started to insist that the Bush administration accept a deadline for withdrawal and agree for Americans to leave the Green Zone compound that had come to serve as a symbol of U. S. arrogance.
"A senior Iraqi government official said this weekend the enclave should revert to Iraqi control by the end of the year. “We think that by the end of 2008 all the zones in Baghdad should be integrated into the city,” said Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman."
Liberal blogs have been noticing for some time that progress for the surge strengthened the argument for withdrawal. It became obvious that Barack Obama would have to pounce when the Maliki government announced that they wanted a timeline for withdrawal as well. And Obama did pounce.

"The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States. . .

"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's a plan for withdrawal that can be defended. Now Obama has McCain campaign in a box. If McCain keeps arguing for a permanent American presence in Iraq, he can be accused of trying to override the sovereignty of the Iraqi government. If McCain agrees to an expedited withdrawal, he's basically agreeing that Obama is right and has been right all along. If the Obama campaign is smart, they'll pound away at the Obama/Maliki convergence with all the energy and money they have.

It's interesting to think about the counter-arguments from the Bush administration and the right. The McCain campaign calls Obama's new arguments for withdrawal a "losing proposition" in the sense that they imply the failure of the American mission. They won't be using that theme for long because Obama is talking about getting out while we're ahead instead of while we're behind.

There's also a great deal of rage in Commentary over Obama's failure to give the Bush administration any credit. But why should Obama give Bush credit? The war was a bad idea and the Bush administration floundered around for almost five years, wasting 4,000 American lives, and let the country sink into the abyss before finally righting themselves.

I've also seen some commentary to the effect that we shouldn't take the Maliki government's call for a deadline seriously because they're just pandering to popular Iraqi hostility to the occupation. But shouldn't the Maliki government be taking popular opinion in Iraq seriously if it's a democracy.

The Obama campaign now has a workable angle on Iraq. They should push it as hard as they can.

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