Sunday, July 27, 2008

Barack Obama: US force size in Iraq to be "entirely conditions-based"

Reuters report: Obama says conditions to dictate final Iraq force
Newsweek interview, source of statement: Obama's Sober Mood

Richard Wolffe, Newsweek: You've been talking about those limited missions for a long time. Having gone there and talked to both diplomatic and military folks, do you have a clearer idea of how big a force you'd need to leave behind to fulfill all those functions?

Barack Obama: I do think that's entirely conditions-based. It's hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now.
Senator Obama's latest statement that US military forces in Iraq should be drawn down based on conditions brings him very close to President Bush's and Senator McCain's position on Iraq (more on this later). The Newsweek interview effectively shows that when faced with the serious decisions of the office, the next President's choices, whether he's Obama or McCain, will not look much different than those of the current President. Senator Obama (finally!) shows a fair grasp of the great foreign policy challenges President Bush has wrestled with for seven and a half years, and as it turns out, Obama's perspective on those challenges tracks nearly identical to that of the current President. It appears the only remaining difference is Obama's semantic word play of "combat" troops versus, I suppose, some other kind of troops. It reminds me of the time I overheard a journalism student ask Columbia Professor Warner Schilling whether an M-16 was an offensive or defensive weapon. Whether or not the American and multi-national soldiers deployed in Iraq are considered "combat" soldiers, they'll be the same American and multi-national soldiers.

Obama supporters have hailed the American President's and Iraqi Prime Minister's agreement on a "horizon" for US forces withdrawal, together with McCain's acknowledgement of the 16 month withdrawal timeline as feasible, as amounting to a consensus endorsement of Obama's position on Iraq. That's disingenuous. In fact, the key difference between the presidential candidates regarding our Iraq mission had been McCain's conditions-based drawdown versus Obama's deadline-based complete withdrawal. Obama's latest statement that our drawdown in Iraq should be "entirely conditions-based" is a dramatic shift by Obama to McCain's position on Iraq. The shared view by President Bush, PM al Maliki and Senator McCain has been that our exit from Iraq should be conditions-based, not deadline-based, whether those conditions became realized at 16 weeks, 16 months, or 16 years. At present, it just so happens that if the current trajectory of improving conditions in Iraq maintains its course, a 16-month timetable does appear feasible. In effect, the 16 months for Bush, al Maliki, and McCain were not the same as Obama's 16 months, as much as Obama partisans claimed otherwise. With Obama's switch to a conditions-based view of the Iraq mission, Obama has joined Bush and McCain. Now, they are the same 16 months.

Here's an LA Times opinion column by political science giant Walter Russell Mead describing Obama's foreign policy convergence with President Bush. Obama's movement toward Bush relieves me, but doesn't surprise me, since Obama is a liberal (and fellow Columbia poli sci / IR grad), I'm a liberal, and I've known that Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy choices have been definitively liberal. The proper successor of Bush's foreign policy is a dynamic, charismatic liberal like Obama, and it appears Obama is moving very close to accepting President Bush's mantle in the War on Terror.

I am very heartened by the change in Obama's position. I hope it's a firm, sincere change. At least, he's taken a major step in the right direction. It appears Obama's "sober" trip to the war bore fruit after all.


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Blogger JSN said...

Isn't there still a huge amount of wiggle room, in terms of deciding what conditions decide what actions?

Hypothetically, couldn't Obama argue that conditions now constitute a signal to reduce troops dramatically?

Not that he would, I'm just saying that I'm not sure Obama's comments constitute the change in policy you suggest.

Mead may well have contributed essential ideas to the world of ideas, but I object to saying the surge worked, or. more specifically, giving McCain any credit for the change in the Iraqi security situation.

As for Iran, which Mead brings up a couple times, the U.S. government's NIE says they stopped working on the bombs a half-decade ago. In addition, all the IAEA reports I read suggested it was Iran who was reporting on their previous program, and not an inspector's game of Gotcha! that revealed the truth of the matter (the few-to-many claims of unnamed American diplomats in Geneva, notwithstanding).

8/01/2008 4:17 PM  

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