For weeks, now, Senator McCain has argued that the gains of the surge mean that I should change my commitment to end the war. But this argument misconstrues what is necessary to succeed in Iraq, and stubbornly ignores the facts of the broader strategic picture that we face.Now, reserving the Afghanistan issue later, I think its important to take a step back and look and see exactly what U.S. Congress established as the metric for success in Iraq. (It should be noted that some have criticized some of the benchmarks for being too subjective/arbitrary to be used as adequate metrics)The benchmarks (or milestones) are:
In the 18 months since the surge began, the strain on our military has increased, our troops and their families have borne an enormous burden, and American taxpayers have spent another $200 billion in Iraq. That's over $10 billion each month. That is a consequence of our current strategy.
In the 18 months since the surge began, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. June was our highest casualty month of the war. The Taliban has been on the offensive, even launching a brazen attack on one of our bases. Al Qaeda has a growing sanctuary in Pakistan. That is a consequence of our current strategy.
In the 18 months since the surge began, as I warned at the outset - Iraq's leaders have not made the political progress that was the purpose of the surge. They have not invested tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues to rebuild their country. They have not resolved their differences or shaped a new political compact.
- Perform constitutional review.
- Enact de-Bathification reform.
- Form semi-autonomous regions.
- Hold provincial elections.
- Address amnesty.
- Establish support for Baghdad Security Plan.
- Ensure minority rights in Iraqi legislature.
- Keep Iraqi Security Force free from partisan interference.
- Disarm militias.
- Provide military support in Baghdad.
- Empower Iraqi Security Forces. Ensure impartial law enforcement.
- Establish support for Baghdad Security Plan by Maliki government.
- Reduce sectarian violence.
- Establish neighborhood security in Baghdad.
- Increase independent Iraqi Security Forces.
- Implement oil legislation.
- Distribute Iraqi resources equitably.
The surge was announced in January 2007. The initial 20,000 troops reached Iraq in March 2007, with more arriving and other units rotating home, the forces in Iraq hit 150,000 in April 2007. Six months after the surge, the initial report showed that of the benchmarks, only three, according to the GAO report, had been met (the Baghdad security plan had been supported, minority rights in the legislature had been ensured, and neighborhood security in Baghdad had been established).
Three months later, the surge strategy, in buying time for the civil process to reestablish itself in Iraq, had resulted in 12 of the benchmarks being achieved. By May 2008, 15 of 18 benchmarks had been achieved. According to the AP story, the two most intractable problems in meeting all the benchmarks are laws to eliminate and disarm militias and solution to the question of the distribution of the oil revenue question.
Let's see. January 2007, there is sectarian violence which is basically out of control, a government that is so fractured that it is ineffective, an indigenous military force which is still trying to stand-up to the point where it can operate as an effective, independent entity, in addition to a de-Baathification process that is out of whack and disputes over how best to use the best natural resource available to the Iraqis. In July 2008, violence in Iraq has largely been brought under control. The Iraqi government, while not a model, is operating more effectively. An amnesty program has been put into effect which allows people who did not commit crimes but were tainted by their association with the Baath party to come back into the fold. While there is still a dispute over how to share oil revenues, the parties are talking and investors are being courted. And best of all, U.S. casualties in Iraq have significantly dropped.
To the layman, taking this all in, it would seem that the surge strategy has worked.
Of course, it would seem that the surge has altered the operational and strategic landscape of the Iraq situation. The Iraqi government realizes this. They want to start talking about the withdrawal of U.S. units. However, this proposal includes the possibility of maintaining bases in Iraq (though not like a Guantanamo type arrangement). Senator Obama, however, had this to say,
To achieve that success, I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. Let me be clear: we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 - one year after Iraqi Security Forces will be prepared to stand up; two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, we'll keep a residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq: targeting any remnants of al Qaeda; protecting our service members and diplomats; and training and supporting Iraq's Security Forces, so long as the Iraqis make political progress.Let's see. The situation has changed. Yet, Senator Obama does not want to change his position to address the change in the situation. If you read the speech he gave today, its interesting to see how much he wants to get out of Iraq, how much he wants to remind people of how he never approved of the invasion of Iraq, and how much he wants to focus on Afghanistan.
Whether or not the invasion of Iraq was right or wrong, the fact is that we are there. Leaving without ensuring there will be the conditions necessary for relative peace will mean that all the lives and treasure we have spent will have been wasted. The one thing that seems to be the lesson of the surge policy is that it works for what it can do. It cannot solve all the Iraqi problems. What it is doing is allowing the civil society in Iraq the time it needs to reassert itself. It would be nice to learn from the mistakes we made in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam.
Now turning from the Iraq portion of his policy to Afghanistan. It is interesting to see how much he wants to end what we are doing in Iraq... only to do exactly the same type of thing in Afghanistan. Then again, maybe it is what we should expect from a man who said his foreign policy would be an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a deployment of more troops (but not a "surge") to Afghanistan and possibly invading Pakistan (who by the way has a nuclear weapons system).
By the way, has anyone ever told Senator Obama about people who send large occupation forces to Afghanistan? Someone might tell him to get an adviser who has read something about the Russian and British experiences of trying to be too hands on with the Afghani people.
In one of the sections of his speech where he gets into talking about what his plan would mean, Senator Obama states,
I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan, and use this commitment to seek greater contributions - with fewer restrictions - from NATO allies. I will focus on training Afghan security forces and supporting an Afghan judiciary, with more resources and incentives for American officers who perform these missions. Just as we succeeded in the Cold War by supporting allies who could sustain their own security, we must realize that the 21st century's frontlines are not only on the field of battle - they are found in the training exercise near Kabul, in the police station in Kandahar, and in the rule of law in Herat.So, send more troops. Focus on the training. Build up a judiciary. And get NATO allies to do more. Call me crazy, but the way this reads is he wants to send more troops there, not to fight, but to train others to fight. He also thinks that the NATO members will be willing to suddenly reverse their apathy and commit their troops to do more of the fighting and less of the training.
Are more troops needed in Afghanistan? Yes. Do we need more NATO participation in combat operations? It might be nice. On the other hand, I think that Europe cannot be depended upon to do that. They are nice social democracies, but I think its safe to say that social democracies thrive by dampening down the warrior impulse (at least at the governmental level) that is needed to confront an external threat that isn't just a stones throw from the border.
Then Senator Obama turns to the issue of nuclear proliferation and Iran. Again, he stated,
We cannot tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of nations that support terror. Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States. No tool of statecraft should be taken off the table, but Senator McCain would continue a failed policy that has seen Iran strengthen its position, advance its nuclear program, and stockpile 150 kilos of low enriched uranium. I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, starting with aggressive, principled and direct diplomacy - diplomacy backed with strong sanctions and without preconditions.Nice to see how he opposes Iran getting nuclear weapons. So opposed that "No tool of statecraft" will be left unused. Typically, statecraft means tools not including war. American policy on Iran has been sadly deficient for more than a decade. Rather than trying to engage in some way when we had a chance with previous Iranian administrations, we are left with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not exactly someone who can be rationally dealt with.
What can I say. I am disappointed by this Obama speech. From a speech writing perspective, its great. I am sure that if I punched this into a computer program, it might even be found to be written at an eighth grade level. But he missed a chance.
Instead of talking about the fact that he opposed the war from the beginning, he could have laid out some specific points about how his foreign policy would be different from the current administrations. He could have put forward a new idea on how future U.S.-Iraqi relations will work. Instead of the "Shared Security Partnership Program" idea, he might have laid down how the U.S. will operate in the Middle East and Central Asia. Its nice that he wants to promote "cooperative efforts" to defeat terrorism, and directing more foreign aid to Africa, but that something that a high-school policy debater would say (right before they linked the failure of the oppositions plan to nuclear war -- sorry Speech and Debate humor).
What I want from the person who leads my country is at least the idea that the policy is not going to be one of running away. That it is one where we lead, instead of hoping that others will go along with us. No other country has the capabilities, resources, or credibility (even as damaged as it has been by President Bush ineptitude). Even if one were to say that there are others ready to step up to being a super-power, is that what we really want? Do we want China to step up and assume the mantle of super-power? Do we want Russia to try and reassert itself as the other end of a bi-polar system? Call me a chauvinist, but I'm not ready to see their version of being the dominant hegemon.
I sort of expect a bit more from someone who wants to become next the licensee at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.