Today’s Obama “End of Iraq Combat Operations” festival is so teaming with error and irony that I hardly know where to begin.
But I will begin.
As you are probably aware, President Obama is marking the Aug. 31 “End of Combat” milestone with a visit to the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas – lasting no more than an hour, just long enough to snap some photos – and an Oval Office speech. We get this along with a weekly address devoted to the topic and a White House-launched web campaign to honor the troops. We’re pretty much having a party.
Let’s start with the important stuff. Obama rarely pays public attention to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and as a wartime leader, he should be doing much more of it. But not today.
The drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq should be accomplished with as little fanfare as possible. I can think of no benefit, other than political benefit for Obama as someone who kept his promise to end “combat operations” by Aug. 31, to touting this day. It is an eerie echo of another politician’s attempt to prematurely plant the flag of victory in Iraq, one who declared “Mission Accomplished” and “the end of major combat operations” and then rued it the rest of his presidency.
Here’s why this is a Big Mistake:
1. Nothing is really changing. The largest combat operations ended long ago. American forces have for a long time been engaged in counterterrorism operations, which will continue. But instead, these will now be called “stability operations.”
2. IT MAKES NO MILITARY SENSE TO ADVERTISE THAT YOU ARE LEAVING AND YOU LIKE IT. This can only encourage the enemy, who still exist in Iraq and who have recently been stepping up their own combat operations. I ask you: If in the tenth round, Boxer #1 tells Boxer #2 that he’s no longer engaged in combat, what is Boxer #2 going to do? He’s going to hit Boxer #1 really, really hard in the head.
3. Obama should indeed talk about success in Iraq. But on a regular basis, not as a one-shot deal and not to fete our departure. WE SHOULD BE PRETENDING THERE’S NO PLACE WE’D RATHER BE THAN HANGING OUT IN THE IRAQI DESERT WHEN IT’S 113 DEGREES FARENHEIT IN THE SHADE.
Obama has little to celebrate right now, so he’s celebrating Iraq, which leads me to my second point: Obama is trumpeting success in a war he opposed that was won with a strategy – the surge – that he opposed.
The credit goes to the man he defeated and the man he replaced. I’m sure neither of them will be anywhere near Obama’s events or mentioned in his remarks.
Sen. John McCain was a lonely voice for a long time saying, at MUCH political peril to himself, that we needed to increase our military presence in Iraq. Bush kept insisting his commanders were telling him they had enough troops. I don’t know who was channeling such information to Bush, but I can only assume it was someone or some group who felt they were telling him what he wanted to hear. And they were probably right.
One day at the Bush White House, McCain and a group of senators came to visit with Bush for some reason that I forget. McCain came to the microphones on the driveway and one of the things he mentioned was that we needed more troops in Iraq. Then, the other senators left, and I noticed that McCain went back into the West Wing. He met personally with Bush.
Not long afterward, Bush declared that he was sending more of our young men and women into Iraq.
Here’s one of Obama’s comments from the period:
I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is gonna solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.
The other unfortunate irony is that Obama, as a fierce opponent of the war, must think the U.S. soldiers who gave their lives there did so in vain. It’s a legitimate, if incorrect, point of view.
I ask you this simple question. With Iran, Iraq’s arch enemy, close to developing its first nuclear weapon, Saddam Hussein, were he still in power, today would be doing what? Let’s make it multiple choice.
1. Sitting on his ass.
2. Developing his own nuclear weapons, as he had before.
You tell me the answer.
Obama needs to thank both Bush and McCain today. But he won’t, because this is a political exercise, and they are with the political opposition.
UPDATE: Obama did call Bush today and had a private conversation with him. It was the right thing to do.