Obama pulls out, polem­i­cally

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s mil­i­tary “pull-out” from Iraq as an­nounced two weeks ago isn’t what his cam­paign promised — thank good­ness.

Stripped of Obama drama — the art­ful polemics, pul­pit the­atrics and pack­aged siz­zle that marked his cam­paign and are his core po­lit­i­cal strength — Mr. Obama’s plan dif­fers lit­tle from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s.

Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion plans called for a phased tran­si­tion from “more coali­tion se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions” to “fewer” based on the con­tin­u­ing, demon­strated im­prove­ment in the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Iraq’s own mil­i­tary and po­lice forces — “rheo­stat” war­fare is the term. Sta­bi­liz­ing, se­cur­ing and ex­tend­ing the au­thor­ity of Iraq’s na­tional gov­ern­ment was an in­te­gral part of the process. As “fewer” com­bat op­er­a­tions nudged to­ward “zero,” U.S. lo­gis­tics and train­ing sup­port units would con­tinue to as­sist Iraqi forces.

“No” com­bat op­er­a­tions was qual­i­fied. U.S. forces in the re­gion would re­main on “strate- gic over­watch” — a “night light” for the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly use­ful when con­fronting Ira­nian fi­nagling. U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions per­son­nel would also con­tinue to as­sist the Iraqis in con­duct­ing anti-ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions.

Mr. Obama’s “new plan” re­tains th­ese el­e­ments.

Yet the pres­i­dent ar­gues he is ful­fill­ing a cam­paign pledge to pull out quickly, a pledge that in­ten­tion­ally and in­sis­tently echoed Sen. Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., dec­la­ra­tion that the war in Iraq was lost.

Mr. Reid’s claim was stupid, nakedly par­ti­san, dele­te­ri­ous to the war ef­fort and demon­stra­bly false.

Iraq’s Jan­uary pro­vin­cial elec­tions are an­other in­di­ca­tor that the emerg­ing victory con­tin­ues. The Lon­don Times re­ported Bagh­dad’s night­clubs are open for busi­ness, not­ing, “[. . .] the bur­geon­ing nightlife in the Iraqi cap­i­tal is the most dra­matic ev­i­dence so far that this city is re­turn­ing to its old, pre-war ways [. . .]”

Booze, tarts and wa­ter­ing holes for Iraqi literati in­di­cate progress of a sort — one re­porters can com­pre­hend. I’ll ad­mit they were eco­nomic and so­cial in­di­ca­tors I ex­pected, for se­cu­rity and lib­erty per­mit the lib­er­tine, and se­cu­rity and lib­erty were the trend lines the likes of Harry Reid failed to see. In an Are­naUSA video filmed in May 2008, I pointed out an­other in­di­ca­tor of emerg­ing victory in Iraq would be the re­turn of Bagh­dad’s nightlife.

The surge of 2007 en­er­gized and so­lid­i­fied po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary trends that be­gan in 2004 — pos­i­tive trends from the per­spec­tive of Iraq and the United States — trends like an im­prov­ing Iraqi Army, eco­nomic re­cov­ery and in­creas­ingly ca­pa­ble Iraqi gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions.

The key, of course, is an elected, fully sov­er­eign Iraqi gov­ern­ment. Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al Ma­liki did not of­fi­cially form his demo­crat­i­cally elected Iraqi gov­ern­ment un­til May 2006.

May 2009 is the third an­niver­sary of the his­toric event, and in a his­tor­i­cal lens — es­pe­cially given the se­cu­rity chal­lenges rep­re­sented by al-Qaida ter­ror­ists and Sad­damist loy­al­ists, as well as cul­tural and re­li­gious di­vi­sions ex­ac­er­bated by ter­ror­ist ac­tions — the Iraqi gov­ern­ment’s ac­com­plish­ments are ex­traor­di­nary.

Some­day that will be rec­og­nized. Mr. Obama hinted at it in his speech.

Mr. Obama’s speech de­scrib­ing his “pull­out” plan was art­fully rid­dled with rhetor­i­cal hedges — the type that pro­vide diplo­matic and mil­i­tary wig­gle room. Af­ter men­tion­ing in­evitable “tac­ti­cal ad­just­ments” he said, “[. . .] this plan gives our mil­i­tary the forces and the flex­i­bil­ity they need to sup­port our Iraqi part­ners [. . .]” In March 2008, an Obama ad­viser, Sa­man­tha Power, told a sur­prised BBC in­ter­viewer that, no mat­ter the cam­paign rhetoric, that’s what we should ex­pect once he was in of­fice — flex­i­bil­ity.

Mr. Obama con­tin­ues to pur­sue a sleight of hand, over­see­ing a phased tran­si­tion that doesn’t re­sem­ble the rapid pull­out once de­manded by his Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­tion sup­port­ers.

Words, how­ever, mat­ter — they have moral, psy­cho­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal ef­fects.

Couch­ing U.S. dis­en­gage­ment in the lan­guage of de­feat is a mis­take Mr. Obama must avoid, though this is pre­cisely the kind of rhetor­i­cal flour­ish that thrills his rad­i­cal sup­port­ers. The big­gest mis­take would be to dis­en­gage and put Iraq’s nascent demo­cratic state at risk.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion faces an ex­traor­di­nary his­tor­i­cal quandary — Mr. Obama greatly ad­mires fel­low Illi­noisan Abe Lin­coln, the lib­er­a­tor. As­tute pol­icy choices of­fer Mr. Obama the op­por­tu­nity to se­cure victory in Iraq and par­tic­i­pate in an­other his­toric ex­ten­sion of lib­erty. While his sup­port­ers might ap­plaud, a with­drawal that snatches de­feat from the jaw of victory will be his­tor­i­cally damned.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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