It wasn’t exactly a highlight of Barack Obama’s rather uninspiring speech on national security the candidate gave in Washington on Tuesday. But buried under the interminable rhetoric on how the candidate, once president, will be able to wave his magic wand (or perhaps wiggle his nose like Jeannie) and conjure up coalitions of allies to deal with this problem or that (even getting Iran and Syria to cooperate on Iraqi security which would be a magic trick worthy of Merlin), there was a shocking admission by Mr. Obama that he and his Democratic colleagues had been wrong about Iraq for years.
For the first time since the Iraq war began, a Democratic leader uttered the “V” word and “Iraq” in the same sentence. That’s right; Obama called for “victory” in Iraq:
At some point, a judgment must be made. Iraq is not going to be a perfect place, and we don’t have unlimited resources to try to make it one. We are not going to kill every al Qaeda sympathizer, eliminate every trace of Iranian influence, or stand up a flawless democracy before we leave – General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker acknowledged this to me when they testified last April. That is why the accusation of surrender is false rhetoric used to justify a failed policy. In fact, true success in Iraq – victory in Iraq – will not take place in a surrender ceremony where an enemy lays down their arms. True success will take place when we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future – a government that prevents sectarian conflict, and ensures that the al Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge. That is an achievable goal if we pursue a comprehensive plan to press the Iraqis stand up.
The candidate actually defines the terms of “success” and “victory.” Why is this significant.
Because last year, Barack Obama declared the war a failure and unwinnable:
Senator Barack Obama said Tuesday that even if the military escalation in Iraq was showing limited signs of progress, efforts to stabilize the country had been a “complete failure” and American troops should not be entangled in the sectarian strife.
“No military surge, no matter how brilliantly performed, can succeed without political reconciliation and a surge of diplomacy in Iraq and the region,” Mr. Obama said. “Iraq’s leaders are not reconciling. They are not achieving political benchmarks.”
This is at the time Obama was calling for “an immediate withdrawal” of all American troops without consulting the Iraqis, the generals on the ground, or anyone else he says today that he “has always said” he would consult:
“Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq and there never was,” Obama said in excerpts of the speech provided to the Associated Press.
“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,” the Illinois senator says.
A strange part of his definition of “victory” that he stated in his Tuesday speech sounds a lot like retreat before complete victory is achieved:”
To achieve that success, I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. Let me be clear: 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 — one year after Iraqi Security Forces will be prepared to stand up; two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, we’ll keep a residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq: targeting any remnants of Al-Qaeda; protecting our service members and diplomats; and training and supporting Iraq’s Security Forces, so long as the Iraqis make political progress.
We will make tactical adjustments as we implement this strategy — that is what any responsible commander-in-chief must do. As I have consistently said, I will consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government. We will redeploy from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We will commit $2 billion to a meaningful international effort to support the more than 4 million displaced Iraqis. We will forge a new coalition to support Iraq’s future — one that includes all of Iraq’s neighbors, and also the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Union — because we all have a stake in stability. And we will make it clear that the United States seeks no permanent bases in Iraq.
“Achieve success” by “ending this war?” This kind of disconnect from reality reminds me of the new Soviet government in 1917 simply declaring the war was over and marching off the battlefield. They did this because their negotiations with the Germans were becoming all to real with the Kaiser demanding huge chunks of Soviet territory and crippling war reparations.
The Germans watched in amazement as more than 3 million Russian troops abandoned their positions and started the long trek home. Not quite believing their good fortune, the Germans were, at first, rather cautious. But once they realized the Soviets were retreating, they quickly advanced and turned the retreat into a rout. After pushing hundreds of miles into Russia bagging huge numbers of Russian soldiers as prisoners in the process, the Soviets realized their mistake and meekly returned to the bargaining table, giving the Kaiser virtually everything he wanted.
Drawing an historical parallel with Iraq using the Soviet-German history during World War I is probably not fair since al-Qaeda and the Shia militias can no way be compared to the German army on the Eastern front in 1917.
But where I think the analogy is apt is in positing that both the terrorists and the militias will be strengthened considerably by a withdrawal more beholden to some timeline than events on the ground. Since the candidate can’t seem to make up his mind whether he wants to pander to his base by eschewing consultation or whether he wants to pander to rational voters by including such caveats with his timeline, we just don’t know. On Tuesday at least, he was for consultation and for making “tactical adjustments” if necessary.
What if Obama had talked of “victory” and “tactical adjustments” and “consulting generals” during the primary campaign? Sure is a far cry from “immediate withdrawal,” although perhaps he meant he would withdraw the troops immediately after we felt we had achieved victory? I daresay if he had breathed the word “victory” during his contest with Hillary Clinton, he would have been hooted off the stage.
That’s because both legislative leaders of the Democratic party declared the war “lost” more than a year ago. First, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on 4/20/07:
“I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and – you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows – (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday,” said Reid, D-Nev.
And here’s Nancy Pelosi on 2/10/08:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said twice Sunday that Iraq “is a failure,” adding that President Bush’s troop surge has “not produced the desired effect.”
“The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “They have not done that.”
So has Obama in effect, repudiated the two most powerful leaders in the legislative branch of his own party?
You bet he has. Since neither Reid nor Pelosi have seen fit to come forward and admit that they were spectacularly wrong in their assessment of Iraq, Obama has hung them – and most of the rest of his own party – out to dry. He has redefined the goals in Iraq – albeit incoherently – by stipulating that “success” and “victory” were now the aims of American policy and not withdrawal and defeat which is still the de facto position of the netroots and the far left Moveon crowd.
Why no one has noticed this in the media is probably due to the fact that now we are enjoying a modicum of success in Iraq on all fronts, the political fruits of victory will be spread around to somehow include Democrats. It is impossible to give George Bush and his mostly conservative war supporters all the credit despite the defeatist and obstructionist policies carried on for most of the war by their political opponents. It would be inconsistent with their past reporting of Bush as a boob and incompetent. Room must be found for the Democrats to share in whatever success we achieve in Iraq.
So congratulations to Barack Obama who has now hopped on to the victory train – now that it’s almost at the station and preparing to unload.
UPDATE: CORRECTION URGENTLY NEEDED
How could I be so stupid? Yes I was dropped on my head as an infant but that doesn’t explain how I could have possibly mixed up Samantha from Bewitched with Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie.
Both my good friend Jim from the site bRright and Early and reader Mike S. were kind enough to point out my error in ascribing Samantha’s magic gesture of the nose wiggle to Jeanie. Of course, Jeanie would cross her arms and bob her head to initiate her magic spells. I apologize for the confusion.
As to which one is sexier, from the vantage point of age, no doubt Samantha is cuter but Jeanie’s costume…ooh la la. Did you know that the network censor refused to allow Barbara Eden’s navel to show?
We’ve come a long way, baby…