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City of Brass

City of Brass

Obama will not leave Iraq. (good.)

I’ve long argued that no Democratic president will fully withdraw from Iraq. There’s been plenty of evidence of Obama’s intentions in that regard; the latest is this exchange from Joe Klein’s recent interview with Obama:

[Q] Lets go back to we’re now moving to the issue portion. When you
questioned [General Petraeus] [in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] the last
time. You asked him about what [conditions on the ground] would be
‘good enough’ for us to leave Iraq.

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[BO] Right.

[Q] As you sit here today, and you look at what’s happening in Iraq, is it good enough?

[BO] I don’t think it’s quite good enough yet because I think we have
to do a little more training. We’ve got to build up the logistical
capacity
. I think the possibilities of ethnic strife breaking out again
are still present, precisely because the political system has not
stabilized itself yet. But I do believe that we are at a point now
where we can start drawing down troops. I think we can time a process
where the drawing down of troops parallel to building up the capacity
in Iraq and the Sofa agreement that just, the Sofa that was just put
forward I think reflects that reality.

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Now, this position has nuance and is markedly different from the stay-the-course, empty promise of victory policy of the Bush Administration (and John McCain). It’s still not enough for the “progressive” leftists, however, whose Responsible Plan still calls for total withdrawal of all combat troops. It may surprise many to hear that I am (marginally, but firmly) on the other side of the fence from them, and advocate what the CSIS calls “strategic patience” (PDF link) in Iraq. This is primarily because there is a blood cost to withdrawal and I believe the United States bears a moral responsibility as well as a strategic one.

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Naturally, once Obama is elected, the Obama Administration is going to cause a lot of heartburn to progressive leftists and isolationist conservatives (like Daniel Larison) alike. Team Obama is well- aware of this, which may explain Joe Biden’s somewhat odd comments a while back about Obama being tested early on in his presidency. To me, the interesting part of Biden’s comments were as follows:

“Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. … And he’s gonna need help. And
the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you – not
financially to help him – we’re gonna need you to use your influence,
your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s
not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re
right
.”

“… he’s gonna need your help. Because I
promise you, you all are gonna be sitting here a year from now going,
‘Oh my God, why are they there in the polls? Why is the polling so
down? Why is this thing so tough?’ We’re gonna have to make some
incredibly tough decisions in the first two years. So I’m asking you
now, I’m asking you now, be prepared to stick with us. Remember the
faith you had at this point
because you’re going to have to reinforce
us.”

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“There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go, ‘Whoa,
wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don’t know about that decision’,”
Biden continued. “Because if you think the decision is sound when
they’re made, which I believe you will when they’re made, they’re not
likely to be as popular as they are sound. Because if they’re popular,
they’re probably not sound
.”

emphasis mine – and keep in mind that total withdrawal from Iraq is very popular right now. I read the above as a warning to supporters who may think Obama will be the exact opposite of President Bush in every respect, that there may be (will be!) occassions where President Obama decides to use force in a manner that the “progressive” left willl not approve of. Maintaining a troop presence in Iraq, and expanding operations in Afghanistan, are likely to be only the start. And I approve wholeheartedly – it’s going to be a more dangerous world, not less, over the next ten years. I know this puts me at odds with most of the liberal mainstream but I am proudly a pragmatic liberal interventionist in these matters. After all, as a liberal, can one permit genocide to re-occur? How exactly, apart from joining Facebook groups, do we Save Darfur?

  • Aamer Jamali

    As usual, Obama has succeeded in finding a position that nobody can disagree with, and thus affords him no political risk. However, in Biden’s words (paraphrasing) if it is popular, it is probably not good policy.
    There is no doubt a president Obama would listen to all sides, and make a judicious, conservative (not in the political sense) decision which he felt was best for the country… In a vacuum. The question is can he do it with a crazy left congress goading him towards their progressive agenda. Does he have the political ‘chutzpah’ to stand up to 300 fellow democrats in the legislative branch?
    Only time can answer that question.

  • Thomas Nephew

    Here’s hoping you’re wrong about this, Aziz. People are right to hear a 16 month time frame and to hold him to that. No one canvasses or phonebanks day in, day out, or sends a $10 donation on a minimum wage income for “strategic patience” in Iraq; it will be a betrayal if significant US forces remain in Iraq beyond then. The embassy may be one thing, though it should be scaled down; the bases are another.
    Re Biden’s remarks, I think it’s a stretch to read those as definitively asking for people to stand by Obama as he fails to withdraw. A “generated crisis” seems more likely to be to tempt him and/or “American greatness” types to keep pouring money and blood into a quagmire that is strategically unwise for the US to remain stuck in. We are more free to advance our real interests if we’re not pouring resources down the Iraq sinkhole.
    You’re right, we bear a responsibility (in particular, I do, as a former supporter of the war) for Iraq’s plight. But that does not automatically equate to continuing military operations or occupation. *Whenever* we leave, the situation will worsen at first. I think it’s like a strong man holding a fallen tower off the ground; he can stand there for 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years, but when he leaves that tower will fall. And until he leaves, that tower can’t really be rebuilt.

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