June 7, 2008


Voting for Commander in Chief: There can only be one (Frederick W. Kagan, 06/16/2008, Weekly Standard)

It would be hard to design a better test for the job of commander in chief than the real-life test senators John McCain and Barack Obama have undergone in the last two years. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated during 2006 and the war reached its most critical moment, both senators served on national security committees: McCain on Armed Services, Obama on Foreign Relations. From those positions, with access to classified situation reports as well as the public testimony and private advice of those who knew the situation in Iraq best, each man reached an understanding of the facts on the ground and the interests at stake. And each proposed a strategy. It was as close as a presidential candidate could get to showing how he would respond to a national security crisis without already being in the White House. [...]

Barack Obama's approach differed from McCain's in its basis as well as its goals and methods. Not having traveled to Iraq since January 2006--before the Samarra Mosque bombing, the explosion of sectarian violence, and the two failed U.S. attempts to quell that violence--Obama relied on others' testimony in assessing the situation on the ground. His bill quoted a skeptical Colin Powell and an even more skeptical CENTCOM commander, General John Abizaid. Abizaid said he had discussed the usefulness of a surge of U.S. troops with "every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey," and all had agreed that a surge of troops would not "add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq." Worse, it would "prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future."

Given this analysis, Obama's legislation forbade the surge and ordered most U.S. troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2008. It said,

The redeployment of the Armed Forces under this section shall be substantial, shall occur in a gradual manner, and shall be executed at a pace to achieve the goal of the complete redeployment of all United States combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008, consistent with the expectation of the Iraq Study Group, if all the matters set forth in subsection (b)(1)(B) are not met by such date, subject to the exceptions for retention of forces for force protection, counter-terrorism operations, training of Iraqi forces, and other purposes as contemplated by subsection (g).

In the media, Obama repeatedly predicted that the surge would fail. The day the president announced the new policy, Obama told Larry King he "did not see anything" in the president's surge that would "make a significant dent in the sectarian violence." The same day, he said on MSNBC,

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president's proposal.... I think he is wrong, and I think the American people believe he's wrong.

Four days later, Obama told Face the Nation, "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality--we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."

So what happened?

....just because Senator Obama got the central foreign policy question of his career totally wrong?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 7, 2008 8:47 PM

Hey, Obama is young - he's got years to go before he catches up to John Kerry, Al Gore, Sam Nunn, Zbig, Nancy Pelosi, and Jimmy Carter.

Really, the only issue here is whether somebody will ask Obama if he was wrong. Surely some reporter will, right?

Posted by: ratbert at June 8, 2008 12:59 AM

"We cannot impose a military solution on what has become effectively a civil war."

One may wonder what Ulysses Grant might have thought of that statement.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 8, 2008 8:36 AM