Barack Obama’s editorial on Iraq in today’s New York Times is generating lots of dialogue. I’m really glad everyone’s covering the story so well, because it leaves me free to bring up a couple of things that are starting to bug me.
First off, I’m getting frustrated with Barack Obama on the surge. From the op-ed:
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.
While he doesn’t directly say so, my direct impression is that knowing what he knows now, he would still oppose it.
How is that possible? Maybe Obama’s forgotten what the situation was in Iraq 18 months ago, but I haven’t. The country was spinning madly into civil war, and casualties — both civilian and military — were horrendous and rising daily. Pulling out at that time, it was widely understood, would have resulted in genocide and anarchy, and the entire region was at risk of being pulled into the maelstrom.
Yet even though I’d opposed the Iraq war vehemently and vociferously in 2002/3, I argued in favor of the surge — because it offered a hope, however slim, of heading off a complete meltdown. I took a lot of heat for saying we should try; that I was naive to “hope”; that it was too long a shot (and it was indeed a long-shot) … but folks, the situation today is vastly improved from late 2006 / early 2007.
It’s been incredibly expensive, in lives and resources. That’s true. But would Obama seriously have been happier with the inevitable outcome without the surge? I think, on this question, I’d love to have a direct answer:
Senator Obama, knowing what we know now, would you still oppose the surge?
None of which is to say, by the way, that it isn’t time to start pulling out. It clearly is. Which brings me to the rocks John McCain’s been throwing today from his glass house:
McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona and advocate of the war, criticized Obama’s stance on Iraq, particularly his opposition to the surge of U.S. troops there. [Snip]
“But the major point here is that Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong,” McCain said.
One might assume from that statement that John McCain’s position on Iraq has ever and always been right — yet he was a strong proponent of going in initially.
Now, lots of people thought, with the information they had, that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat — and most of them have since been quite clear that, had they known then what we know now (or knew in late 2003, even), they’d not have supported the invasion. But in June 2004 — long after the Iraqi realities were known — John McCain wrote:
Last August, during my first trip to Iraq, I was struck not by hostiility toward the United States for toppling Saddam Hussein–I encountered none–but by a burning ambition among Iraqis to build their country anew. Nothing I saw then and nothing I have learned since has changed my conviction that the war was just. We were right to liberate Iraq and end Saddam’s threat to the world. [Snip]
Added to this justification for war were the potential benefits to the region–the ripple effects that a free and democratic Iraqi state can still have on the Middle East. Naysayers have accused hawks of playing dice with people’s lives: How could we possibly know that a democratic Iraq would have a demonstration effect on the region? On one level, they are correct; we cannot know. But we did know what would happen if we didn’t try. The ossified situation in the Middle East, with its utter lack of political freedom or economic opportunity for millions of men and women, helps breed murderous ideologies that threaten the United States. And the region’s autocratic but pro-American regimes are increasingly incapable of stifling these deadly, anti-Western tendencies in their own people. The Saudi regime pledges its love and respect for the United States, yet 15 of 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi. Establishing a democratic Iraq in the heart of the region was, and remains, our best chance for encouraging the necessary transformation of the Middle East. […Snip…]
But were we wrong to invade? No. On the biggest question of all–whether Saddam had to go, by force if necessary–we were right. I would do it again today.
(Note: the article has been removed from McCain’s site. The complete Op-Ed is available via a google-cache)
I can understand people who supported the war initially because they thought there was a clear and present danger to the US and our interests. What I cannot understand is anyone voicing support for preemptive war in pursuit of “trickle-effect” transformations — the very foreign policy theory that led us down this path in the first place..
So… while it would be fine with me if Barack Obama recalls the horrors of the pre-surge months and gave an attaboy someplace, I’d be even happier if John McCain would answer the following question from the 2008 vantage point:
Senator McCain, knowing what we know now, would you invade Iraq all over again?
I’m pretty sure I know what he’d say — but I’d still like to hear him say it. Because there’s wrong, and then there’s Wrong.
(Modified and cross-posted from The Moderate Voice)