I am reassured by President Obama’s announced policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. I have no way of knowing weather we ought to get out or Iraq in 16 months or 19 months or 23 months. I have no way of knowing the size of the ideal residual force to leave behind. Nevertheless, based on what I think I know, I find Obama’s policy on both Iraq and Afghanistan reasonable and reassuring.
I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq from the very first. I always thought it was a rush to war that could have been avoided. The fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction seems to validate that the war was unnecessary. The attempt to tie Iraq to the 9-11 attack on America was deceptive. It certainly appears, as has been alleged, that George W. Bush was determined to invade Iraq from the time he was first elected and nothing was going to deter him from that decision. While I was opposed to going to war in Iraq, it also seemed to me that we were withdrawing from Afghanistan before the job was finished.
Despite being opposed to the initial invasion of Iraq, I did not think we could just pull out once we were in. Our invasion created chaos and instability and a withdrawal without creating a measure of stability could have led to a bloodbath, an expanded regional war involving several nations, and a strengthened Iran. Thankfully the surge, which Obama opposed, was a success and made a responsible withdrawal possible.
Obama’s current policy on Iraq is essentially a continuation of the Bush policy. Under the Status of Forces agreement Bush negotiated with the Iraqi government, all US troops will be out of Iraq by 2012. If McCain had been elected we would not have waited until the last minute to withdraw all of our troops, so a staged withdrawal under McCain would probably not look much different than what we are getting under Obama. Leaving up to 50,000 troops behind is not a complete withdrawal anyway. 50,000 troops is a still a lot of troops.
On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly promised a withdrawal within 16 months and did not mention that that withdrawal excluded 50,000 troops. I am pleased that he is acting responsibly when it comes to national security and not honoring an irresponsible campaign promise. Despite Obama’s campaign pledge, he never was the most anti-war of the Democrats. He was much less pacifist than either Dennis Kucinich or Bill Richardson, who tried to outdo each other in their pledge to quickly exit Iraq. For those who voted for Obama, they had other choices if an immediate withdrawal form Iraq was their primary concern.
As soon as Obama had the Democratic nomination secured, he started moderating his campaign pledge of a quick withdrawal and started talking about acting in consultation with the commanders in the field and evaluating the situation in Iraq. As the candidate of the Party, he sounded more reasonable than as a candidate for the nomination. Now, as President, on national security matters he sounds not that much different from his opponent John McCain.
I fear that Afghanistan may prove a difficult war that drags on for a very long time. Nevertheless, I think we are doing the right thing. I hope we have benchmarks for achieving progress in Afghanistan and I hope we have clear objectives. I hope we have an exit strategy. I hope we have a good estimate of the cost of this war and do not have unrealistic expectation. I wish Obama would present a more detailed plan for Afghanistan and hopefully he will.
I suspect that if McCain was President and had announced he would leave a residual force of 50000 troops in Iraq and was sending more troops to Afghanistan that the anti-war crowd would be in the streets in massive numbers. Obama has such strong support among the electorate that hopefully the anti-war crowd will not gain traction and derail his announced policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully the anti-war crowd has been marginalized and most of those who would normally be in that camp have been co-opted by Obama.
Today the cult of Obama is so strong and he has so much political capital that he can lead the American people anywhere he wants to take them. When flag-draped coffins start coming back from the war in Afghanistan however, I wonder how long the anti-war left will stay in his camp. I suspect that if things do not go well in Afghanistan that many of those who celebrated his victory will turn against him. I hope Obama has the strength of character to put America’s national security interest first even when the going gets tough and people are no longer cheering but are booing.