While a monumental transformation has occurred on the ground in Iraq, Barack Obama has been given a free pass to hide behind outdated anti-Bush slogans and unsubstantiated generalizations. Violence is at record lows, the enemies of Iraqi statehood are suffering defeat after defeat, and the U.S. and Iraq are currently negotiating something that bears a striking resemblance to a peacetime treaty. Iraq is the most important issue of this campaign, and Senator Obama owes American voters candor and specificity on the matter. Here are four questions requiring four non-poetic, fact-based, unqualified answers from the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
1. Senator Obama, President Bush has been criticized, fiercely and repeatedly, for his strategic and tactical intransigence on Iraq. The charge that George Bush has been unwilling to admit his mistakes and to redress such mistakes as needed has served as a mantra for the Democrats. Indeed, you yourself, speaking to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in 2005 had this to say on the matter:
The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people ‘Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are things I would have done differently. But now that we’re here, I am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out.
Mr. Obama, since then the President has acknowledged the failings of the original Rumsfeld plan and revamped the U.S. strategy, most obviously by supporting the so-called troop surge in 2007 that has led to unprecedented military progress in Iraq and made room for political reconciliation there as well. You were outspokenly opposed to the surge from the start and remained opposed for the majority of the time post-surge operations have been underway. In September 2007, you stated plainly:
The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq’s leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now.
Senator, given that violence in Iraq is at it’s lowest since the inception of the war, given that Al-Qaeda is on the run, given that Shiite militia have been significantly neutralized, and given the continued reconciliation taking place within the Maliki government, will you now state that you were wrong about the potential benefits of the troop surge? And if not, is this an example of your refusal to “take the politics out of Iraq”?
2. Senator, U.S. and Iraqi officials are currently hammering out the details of a status of forces agreement (SOFA). The agreement would define the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq in regard to troop levels, number of bases, and troop autonomy in relation to Iraqi sovereignty. Here is your account of a recent conversation you had with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari about SOFA:
I emphasized to him how encouraged I was by the reductions in violence in Iraq but also insisted that it is important for us to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. troops, making it clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq.
Let’s keep that mind while we consider what Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had so say about SOFA during his current trip to Washington. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s account:
We have good success and achievements in training our Army and our police forces,” Talabani said in heavily-accented English. We still “need to have [an] American presence in Iraq… We need to have some – at least some – military bases as a symbol for preventing others [from] interfering [in the] internal affairs of Iraq.
President Talabani is specifically requesting a continued American military presence, and citing regional threats as the reason. We currently see Iran flexing its muscles, threatening our allies, and ratcheting up proxy terrorist connections everywhere from Iraq, to Lebanon, to Gaza. Considering that the U.S. already maintains long-term military bases around the globe, including in Middle East locations such as the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar, what do you see as the downside of maintaining bases in a more peaceful Iraq in order to ensure the continued progress that’s been made in that country?
3. Mr. Obama, you’ve claimed that the Iraq War has made the U.S. less safe. At one point during the primary, you said specifically:
Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened Al-Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.
But, Senator, we read report after report describing the defeat or near defeat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Outside of Iraq, Osama bin Laden has been reduced to the role of a mythical figure or occasional spoken word artist. Recently, CIA Director Michael Hayden said
Al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq. There are clear elements of clear defeat in Saudi Arabia.
You are seeing significant portions of the Islamic world take issue, and take issue publicly with Al Qaeda’s world view and Al Qaeda’s tactics and Al Qaeda’s vision for the future.
And other figures seem to confirm this: According to Pew Center research, support for suicide bombing in the Muslim world has plummeted since the war began, so, too, has confidence in Osama bin Laden. The picture that emerges is one of defeat for Al Qaeda at the operational level, marginalization at the leadership level, and a reversal in terms of wider Muslim sympathy. Add to this the fact that the U.S. has not been attacked since September 11, 2001. Against such a backdrop, Senator, what metric or metrics can you cite that demonstrate an “embolden[ing]]” of Al Qaeda as a result of the war?
4. Finally, Senator, Democrats and other critics of the war have often characterized the idea of “victory” in Iraq as something not only unattainable, but indefinable as well. The concept has been almost deconstructed into the realm of the purely rhetorical — appearing in quotation marks only — and never discussed as a real world aim. Nancy Pelosi has said, “You can define victory any way you want,” and added that war is merely “a situation to be resolved.”
Countless anti-war bloggers and everyday Americans have continually put the question to those who support the war: “What does victory even mean?” It seems that the changing facts on the ground in Iraq have shifted the onus onto those who oppose the war. Here is what we have seen and continue to see in Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s regime toppled, Al-Qaeda being pummeled, Shiite militias being defeated, a reconciled and consensual government forging ahead, oil production up, a continuous return of Iraqi refugees, and a booming economy attracting international investment. The situation remains fragile and progress is certainly reversible, but if these trends continue would that be something you would eventually be willing to call victory?
Senator Obama, for the love of God, in your eyes and the eyes of the anti-war crowd, will the U.S. ever be allowed to win this war?