Iraq: Mission Accomplished
President Obama constantly bemoans all the troubles he says he inherited from George Bush, but has never given President Bush due credit for the U.S. victory in Iraq. The former president’s name was conspicuously absent from Mr. Obama’s remarks in late February announcing the pullout of American troops from Iraq, a pullout made possible by strategic decisions made by President Bush in 2007, which Mr. Obama consistently opposed.
President Obama claims that the withdrawal plan fulfils one of his campaign promises, but the pullout he promised, at the time he first promised it, would have been an admission of American defeat followed by sectarian meltdown in Iraq. Barack Obama had never shown an adequate grasp of the military situation in Iraq, and was consistently wrong about the surge strategy that brought about this victory. On Jan. 10, 2007, when the surge was announced, he said the deployment of additional troops would increase sectarian violence. It didn’t.
After the 2007 State of the Union address he said, “I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work,” and recommended the euphemistic “phased redeployment,” i.e., cutting and running. In the summer of 2007, as levels of violence plummeted, he myopically said, “My assessment is that the surge has not worked.”
In November 2007, two months after General David Petraeus testified to Congress in detail about the successes of the surge, he dug himself a deeper hole, fatuously saying, “Not only have we not seen improvements, but we’re actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.” Thus his failure to admit that he had been wrong, and stubborn unwillingness to recognize those who got it right (the very things said earlier of Mr. Bush), are telling.
Mr. Obama’s speech on Feb. 27 marked a definitive break with the Bush administration’s winning strategy, a point he repeatedly made clear. He should be careful what he wishes for, since from his own lips comes confirmation that anything that happens from this point forward, good or ill, is his responsibility.
Mr. Obama will preside over the changing of the guard to Iraq, which will last almost three years, with the initial combat force drawdown lasting around 18 months. The president stated plainly that “by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” But others may have a say in that. Making a hard and fast deadline actually increases the political impact of insurgent attacks made after that date, because it will place the president in the position of ei- ther having to extend his deadline, or obdurately adhere to a policy that may imperil Iraq.
For those interested in Vietnam analogies, it is worth noting that there were 27 months from the signing of the Paris Peace Accords to the fall of Saigon.
Much of the rest of the president’s speech sounded very much like the “capacity building” agenda that had already begun under President Bush — increasing capabilities of Iraq’s security forces, promoting political stability, undertaking infrastructure improvements, etc. — so there was really nothing new in terms of those objectives. Whether the plan can be executed remains to be seen. The bottom line is, George Bush left Mr. Obama with a war won that is now his to lose. Mr. Obama’s pullout plan is another way of saying, “mission accomplished.”