Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Obama’s Iraq Problem 2

My earlier post on this topic was in reaction to an opinion piece by George Packer in The New Yorker. Here is a shorter follow-up.

Candidate Obama on Saturday:
I am there to listen, but there is no doubt that my core position, which is that we need a timetable for withdrawal, not only to relieve pressure on our military but also to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, is now a position that is also held by the Iraqi government itself.
The Iraqi government is now in favour of putting pressure on the Iraqi government? This seems just a little unlikely. Perhaps there’s something about the Iraqi government’s position that Obama has not quite understood? Such as that the Iraqi government wants withdrawal to be conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security. Such as that there’s an election coming up in Iraq too, and what the Iraqi government needs is to neutralise the Sadrists by showing that the US military presence is not permanent, while ensuring  that the US won’t abandon Iraq prematurely.

It seems the Iraqi government is engaged, naturally enough, in a little pre-election spin, and Obama is using their spin for his own yarn.

Here’s Obama yesterday in a New York Times opinion piece:
In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.
Where to begin? Obama’s original call in January 2007 was to have troops out by March 2008. In that time period  he now recognises massive improvements. Does that mean he made a mistake? Oh no, of course not. “The same factors which led me to oppose the surge still hold true.”

Following the surge, he points to Iraqi  ground security forces being expected to be ready to take over in the middle of 2009. What then would have happened then in early 2008 if his original plan had been put into action? If US troops had been withdrawn long before Iraqi forces were ready? What kind of horror would we now be looking at in Iraq?

See also Jennifer Rubin, Where is Obama Going?

My earlier post: Obama’s Iraq Problem

UPDATE 16 JULY: A new speech from Obama yesterday. Well, not that new. Again the line is get out of Iraq to win in Afghanistan. It's so not new that Christopher Hitchens answered the speech the day before Obama made it. See his article in Slate, The War Between the Wars.

Incredibly, in his speech Obama is still trying to spin the surge as a failure:
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.
The surge in Iraq is a failure because it cost money. The surge in Iraq is a failure because it wasn’t in Afghanistan. The surge in Iraq is a failure because the Iraq government hasn’t made political progress.

But wait, this last point is also past it’s sell-by date. It was answered by Peter Wehner in Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog, again the day before the speech:
[...] for Obama to state that Iraq’s leaders “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge” is misleading and false. Iraqi leaders have reached comprehensive political accommodations, including passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification. In fact, a report card issued in May judged that Iraq’s efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are “satisfactory”–almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. Is Obama unaware of these achievements? Does he care at all about them?
Washington Post editorial here.

New York Times coverage here and here.

Related, Gary Kent of Labour Friends of Iraq writes about the negative consequences of decreasing coverage of Iraq for development in the country here: Iraq is not a four letter word.

And on supporting development in Iraq, this LA Times article gives a look at how environmentalism and energy security can meet.

UPDATE 20th SEPTEMBER: Michael J Totten on the false choice between fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq.


Dr. John Maszka said...

In the 1950s, in the wake of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” plan, Pakistan obtained a 125 megawatt heavy-water reactor from Canada. After India’s first atomic test in May 1974, Pakistan immediately sought to catch up by attempting to purchase a reprocessing plant from France. After France declined due to U.S. resistance, Pakistan began to assemble a uranium enrichment plant via materials from the black market and technology smuggled through A.Q. Khan. In 1976 and 1977, two amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act were passed, prohibiting American aid to countries pursuing either reprocessing or enrichment capabilities for nuclear weapons programs.

These two, the Symington and Glenn Amendments, were passed in response to Pakistan’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capability; but to little avail. Washington’s cool relations with Islamabad soon improved. During the Reagan administration, the US turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program. In return for Pakistan’s cooperation and assistance in the mujahideen’s war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Reagan administration awarded Pakistan with the third largest economic and military aid package after Israel and Egypt. Despite the Pressler Amendment, which made US aid contingent upon the Reagan administration’s annual confirmation that Pakistan was not pursuing nuclear weapons capability, Reagan’s “laissez-faire” approach to Pakistan’s nuclear program seriously aided the proliferation issues that we face today.

Not only did Pakistan continue to develop its own nuclear weapons program, but A.Q. Khan was instrumental in proliferating nuclear technology to other countries as well. Further, Pakistan’s progress toward nuclear capability led to India’s return to its own pursuit of nuclear weapons, an endeavor it had given up after its initial test in 1974. In 1998, both countries had tested nuclear weapons. A uranium-based nuclear device in Pakistan; and a plutonium-based device in India.

Over the years of America's on again- off again support of Pakistan, Musharraf continues to be skeptical of his American allies. In 2002 he is reported to have told a British official that his “great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends.” Musharraf was referring to Viet Nam, Lebanon, Somalia ... etc., etc., etc.,

Taking the war to Pakistan is perhaps the most foolish thing America can do. Obama is not the first to suggest it, and we already have sufficient evidence of the potentially negative repercussions of such an action. On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid. Pakistan has 160 million Arabs (better than half of the population of the entire Arab world). Pakistan also has the support of China and a nuclear arsenal.

I predict that America’s military action in the Middle East will enter the canons of history alongside Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Holocaust, in kind if not in degree. The Bush administration’s war on terror marks the age in which America has again crossed a line that many argue should never be crossed. Call it preemption, preventive war, the war on terror, or whatever you like; there is a sense that we have again unleashed a force that, like a boom-a-rang, at some point has to come back to us. The Bush administration argues that American military intervention in the Middle East is purely in self-defense. Others argue that it is pure aggression. The consensus is equally as torn over its impact on international terrorism. Is America truly deterring future terrorists with its actions? Or is it, in fact, aiding the recruitment of more terrorists?

The last thing the United States should do at this point and time is to violate yet another state’s sovereignty. Beyond being wrong, it just isn't very smart. We all agree that slavery in this country was wrong; as was the decimation of the Native American populations. We all agree that the Holocaust and several other acts of genocide in the twentieth century were wrong. So when will we finally admit that American military intervention in the Middle East is wrong as well?

kellie said...

Mr Maszka, I get the sense that you just cut and pasted a chunk of your book into the comment box. I notice that you have quite a few blogs to your name with only one post on each. Odd.

The hyperbolic use of 20th Century horrors in your penultimate paragraph seems to contain no direct relevance or wisdom. The rest seems information heavy but analysis light.