March 05, 2008

How Willingness Became Weakness

by PG

Michael Gerson in today's Washington Post engages in a thought experiment in order to conclude that Obama cannot stand by his campaign pledges without becoming a foreign policy failure. Gerson declares that Obama will make an "inaugural pledge to 'pay any price, bear any burden, fly any distance to meet with our enemies,'" and that Obama has "made Iranian talks 'without precondition' his major foreign policy goal." Gerson evidently didn't trouble himself to listen to Obama's speeches or even skim the Foreign Policy section of his website. At the top of that page is a quote from the speech that David Brooks recently called the defining moment of Obama's candidacy:

I will end the war in Iraq… I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus. I will finish the fight against Al Qaeda. And I will lead the world to combat the common threats of the 21st century: nuclear weapons and terrorism; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. And I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."
And after that quote, there's the first part of Obama's plan: Ending the War in Iraq. Part of this program is that "Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq's neighbors – including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq's borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq's sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq's reconstruction."

I'm unclear on how any president thinks he will stem the problem of foreign fighters and arms coming over the Iraqi border, unless he plans either to increase troop levels even further to the point that they can secure the 900 mile border with Iran and the 300 mile border with Syria, or makes an agreement with Iraq and Syria that includes penalties for their non-compliance. Even an erstwhile ally like Turkey has taken to bombing northern Iraq in order to deter rebels' hopes for a Kurdish state. Moreover, Iraq's own leadership appears quite willing to sit down with Ahmadinejad.

Gerson says with regard to Iraq (oddly*, the last topic discussed in his op-ed), "American troops will no longer be embedded in Iraqi combat units or used to combat Iranian influence (all pledges made during his campaign). ... Armed groups of Sunnis and Shiites within Iraq begin preparing for a resumption of sectarian conflict." Yet this was hardly a "no new taxes" type of promise on Obama's part -- he has said he would adjust it if necessary after discussions with senior military leaders:

"As commander in chief, I’m not going to leave trainers unprotected," he said. "In our counterterrorism efforts, I'm not going to have a situation where our efforts can't be successful. If the commanders tell me that they need X, Y and Z, in order to accomplish the very narrow mission that I've laid out, then I will take that into consideration."
This is contrary to Bush's tendency to ignore what his experienced advisers tell him when it doesn't fit with his pre-conception, as with his preference for the Rumsfeld plan, based on the assumption that the Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and immediately set about building Iraq into a well-functioning ally of America, to the State Department's warnings about sectarian conflict and the need to secure infrastructure.

Gerson's implication that Obama would leave Iraqis to sectarian genocide is particularly bizarre given that he cites Samantha Power's influence on Obama. Indeed, an actual unconditional pledge Obama has made is, "Yet as we drawdown, we must declare our readiness to intervene with allies to stop genocidal violence."

* I say oddly because Gerson himself is a former Bush speechwriter who was part of the White House Iraq Group that marketed the war to Americans. One might think that he would attack Obama on the Iraq issue first even if Gerson does fantasize that Iran is actually a higher priority than Iraq for Obama.

March 5, 2008 01:49 PM | TrackBack
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