Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Wind at Obama's Back

Barack Obama touched down in Afghanistan on Saturday after a brief visit to Kuwait. Soon it will be onto Iraq for meetings with the Iraqi leadership, Gen. Petraeus, and the U. S. senior staff.

If anybody has ever had a fair wind behind them as they traveled, it's been Barack Obama.

Courtesy of McCain's demands for Obama to travel to Iraq, Obama's trip to the Middle East is now his "much anticipated" trip. In fact, Obama's trip is so highly anticipated that all three of the major network television anchors are traveling with him. That means plenty of puff pieces about Obama that will probably improve his poll numbers. Obama is a celebrity presidential candidate and puffing celebrities is one of the major ways that Brian Williams, Charles Gibson, and Katie Courie "earn" their millions of dollars.

So puffing there will be.

And Obama will take it.

Because Obama's trip to the Middle East has been so highly anticipated, Obama also had an opportunity to give a major speech on Iraq in which he pivoted nicely on his justification for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Before the surge, Obama advocated withdrawing American troops in sixteen months because the troops weren't helping the Iraqis stabilize their country.
But last Tuesday, Obama argued that the progress brought about the surge provides even more justification for troop withdrawals. Building on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's suggestion that a timetable for withdrawal would be appropriate, Obama argued that Iraq is stable enough that American troops can be withdrawn within 16 months and switched to Afghanistan with little danger to Iraq.

It was a sweet manuever. To top it off, Obama also looked determined and presidential while making the speech. The same can't be said for McCain and President Bush's responses. Boxed in by the fact that the Iraqis were supporting a withdrawal timetable, McCain was reduced to the carping complaint that Obama had announced policy before seeing conditions on the ground. The Bush administration didn't do any better in announcing that they had accepted the idea of "a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals" for withdrawing troops from Iraq. That had the appearance of being a concession to the strength of the Maliki/Obama position. However, a "general time horizon" and "aspirational goals" are so vague that they appear transparently dishonest and made the Bush administration look they're lying more than anything else.

Indeed, one could argue that "ineffective dishonesty" has become one of the defining traits of the Bush administration.

Today, Obama got the best news yet. Just as news of Obama's arrival in the Middle East started filtering through the media, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq endorsed Obama's plan for withdrawing American troops by May 2010.

Malike stated that “U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes,” al-Maliki told Der Spiegel. He said he wants U.S. troops to leave “as soon as possible.”

Al-Maliki not only specifically supported Obama's plan and named Obama, he was also specific about undercutting John McCain's rationale that setting a timetable for withdrawal is tantamount to "surrender." Quoting al-Maliki:
"The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias.""
How good can it get for Obama? Obama has the Prime Minister of Iraq announcing support for his policy at precisely the very moment that the American media is most focused on Obama's trip to Iraq. Obama could not have hoped to have a better set of circumstances for making him look like an effective foreign policy leader.

It's a fair wind indeed.

No comments: