President Obama's Camp Lejeune Speech was About How to Stay; Not When We'd Leave
Barack Obama's campaign pledge, as written on his campaign website:
Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war.
George W. Bush esentially beat him to it. What he really means is, how can I bring the troops home, responsibly from Iraq?
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end." -President Obama, February 27, 2009
Could this be a "read my lips" moment, for President Obama? Or a "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" moment:
"And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011"
Notice the wiggle-room provided in the choice of a single word?
Last Friday, President Obama delivered a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, declaring- not victory- but an end to combat operations in Iraq (ABC News link borrowed from Scott's post):
President Barack Obama consigned the Iraq war to history Friday, declaring he will end combat operations within 18 months and open a new era of diplomacy in the Middle East.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama told Marines who are about to deploy by the thousands to the other war front, Afghanistan.
Even so, Obama will leave the bulk of troops in place this year, contrary to hopes of Democratic leaders for a speedier pullout. And after combat forces withdraw, 35,000 to 50,000 will stay behind for an additional year and half of support and counterterrorism duties.
Just six weeks into office, Obama used blunt terms and a cast-in-stone promise to write the last chapter of a war that began six years ago.
The "last chapter"?!? "Cast-in-stone promise"??....? As Iraq War critic Thomas Ricks concludes in his new book, The Gamble, "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
And as Ricks writes in his post:
The more I consider it, the more I think President Obama's Camp Lejeune speech last Friday was about how to stay in Iraq for a while, not about how to get out.
And as he writes further in regards to the Status of Forces Agreement (negotiated under Bush's watch):
(And a memo to everyone who is counting on the SOFA to bail us out of Iraq: Guys, that was about getting Iraq through 2009, not about what happens in 2011.)
MataHarley points out:
But, of course, as the SOFA implicitly states, the US may have to re’escalate if necessary. As stated in Article 27 (1):1. In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.
Also, Kori Schake (note, a number of links I use today come from former foreign policy makers from the "loyal opposition", blogging at Shadow Government) writes:
It leaves room for renegotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to keep a Korea-style U.S. long-term presence without requiring the Iraqi parliamentarians to agree to it concurrent with the SOFA itself. And it outlines sensible military missions and adequate forces to achieve them.
We supporters of the surge need to acknowledge that many in the military advocated this drawdown -- not least the Service Chiefs, who are worried about the strain on U.S. forces from six years of continuous warfare. But we should all also be worried about committing to this timeline. The problem with establishing timelines rather than objectives is that the enemy accounts for them as well.
So, will we really be out of Iraq by 2011? Or is it all a pie-crust promise, easily made and easily broken?
2. This speech should be seen in the context of the assurance Obama reportedly made to Sen. McCain and others that he will evaluate the troop drawdown as it unfolds in light of developments on the ground. This will be an important test of Obama's realism.
I think, like his EOs on Guantanamo and Ensuring Lawful Interrogations, President Obama's speech is mostly window dressing to give the illusion that he is in charge here; that he is commanding a radical shift away from the policies of the Bush Administration when it comes to the War on Terror. As Iraq war-critic Thomas Ricks puts it, "Iraq will change Obama more than Obama will change it".
The fact that President Obama is able to announce what amounts in people's minds as a "firm" date of withdrawal and an end to the conflict in Iraq, is not due to anything President Obama has done, but in spite of; it is due to the hard decisions made under the previous Administration. President Obama is merely surfing the waves created by the previous president.
Both the COIN/Bridge strategy and SOFA were developed under Bush's watch.
So who gets credit for the decision to implement COIN, which includes the troop surge? The buck-credit stops at George W. Bush. The Then-Senators, Obama and Biden, opposed the troop surge. (See Curt's post for some quotes).
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq, with the pullout being completed by the end of next year.
"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq and there never was," Obama said in excerpts of the speech provided to The Associated Press.
"The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year — now," the Illinois senator says.
He introduced legislation last January calling for withdrawal to start on May 1 and for all combat brigades to be pulled out by March 31, 2008
"a surge would tell Iraqi leaders they can continue to avoid reaching a political solution.”- Senator Barack Obama, 01/06/07
Obama and Biden will press Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their future- Campaign website
The arguments of Democrats around this time was that Iraqis weren't standing up because we were carrying out a welfare policy in Iraq that gave them no incentive to stand on their own two feet (nevermind that war-opponents constantly loved to cite polls saying Iraqis want us out; and nevermind that Iraqi patriots have been standing up and dying by the droves defending the fledgling government) and were sitting on an "80 billion surplus" while we spent $10 billion of our own treasure every month.
In fact, some of Obama's statements at the time reflect the mentality of those military commanders who opposed a change (from the desire to "stand down" so that Iraqis will be forced to "stand up") and who opposed the troop surge:
TR: But the uniform military is against the surge. The only person in the chain of command supporting the surge is General Raymond Odierno. Casey, Abizaid, the chairman of the joint chiefs, all of them are saying this is crazy, we’re doing fine, get off our backs, no problem.
HH: Did Peter Pace resist the surge?
-Hugh Hewitt interview with Thomas Ricks
However these examples [unilateral COIN implementation by a few military commanders] weren't imitated by other commanders, probably because they were at odds with the strategy set by Gen. Casey and his boss at Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid. Working on the theory that the U.S. military presence was an irritant to Iraqi society, the generals were trying to oversee a transition to Iraqi forces and so wanted an ever-shrinking American "footprint". By contrast, McMaster injected thousands of U.S. troops into the middle of a city, implicitly saying that they were not the problem but part of the solution, that American troops weren't the sand irritating Iraqi society, but could be the glue that held it together.- Thomas Ricks, The Gamble, pg 60-61
Rick's new book, pg 58, also partially cites the following:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Iraqi government must become less reliant on the United States to handle security. He also said U.S. officials are working with the Iraqis to develop projections on when that might happen.
"It's their country, they're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later," Rumsfeld said.
"The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence," he said.
Departure from this approach and the implementation of the troop surge and COIN strategy- opposed by President Obama and his ilk- got us out of the 4-year quagmire, making troop withdrawal possible under the banner of success and victory rather than under the flag of defeat and surrender.
Caving to the pressures of getting out of Iraq as soon as possible rather than investing patience to get things done right was a mistake on the part of the Bush Administration. As symbolically important as the first purple finger election was, I think it was done in haste before the country was truly ready to hold such an important election. Pressures to speed up the process of graduating Iraqi soldiers and police officers produced quantity over quality.
Will the Obama Administration learn from the experience and mistakes of the Bush Administration?
It seems to me that by vowing to get out of Iraq in 16 months, President Obama is not departing from the mistakes of George Bush, but repeating them. That is, Bush was persistently overoptimistic about Iraq. His original war plan assumed that the United States would get down to 30,000 troops in Iraq by the fall of 2003. Instead, here we are more than five years later with more than four times that number of troops mired in Iraq. I hope we can stop planning for Iraq only on best-case assumptions. I mean, it hasn't worked, I think.
Certainly our resources are not limitless (someone tell Pelosi, Reid, and Obama) and at some point training wheels have to come off and we are not responsible for babysitting Iraq until the end of days; but exactly how useful is it to set timelines engraved in stone? Of announcing troop withdrawal to the enemy?
At this stage, I think regardless of who sits in the Oval Office- Bush, Obama, or McCain, there really isn't that much difference on Iraq policy, other than in the rhetoric.
As Noah Feldman so whimsically puts it:
the Obama position seems to be that we should leave as soon as we’re able, and the McCain position seems to be something like we should stay as long as we must.
It's too bad that President Obama couldn't find it within himself to give any credit whatsoever to President Bush. If he had done so, he'd finally live up to his demagogueing about rising beyond partisan politics; but Barack Obama can't help but be who he is: A man of the far left with the aura and mask of a pragmatic centrist.
Christian Brose writes:
At the risk of heading into la-la land, I think Obama should have tipped his hat ever so slightly today to President Bush, Sen. McCain, and other Republicans who had supported the surge strategy, naming them and thanking them. Of course, there's no telling how Iraq would look today had the surge never happened, but it's likely that conditions would be pretty grim and that this withdrawal plan would have the smell of defeat to it, rather than the opposite, as it does.
Obama could have caveated this to death -- "I opposed Bush's decision to begin this war, I opposed how he sold it to America, I opposed the way he prosecuted it," etc. But he could have recognized that Bush's decision to change strategies in 2007 is in large part why the security situation in Iraq has turned around more than anyone could have hoped, why we can now begin drawing down our forces with a good measure of confidence, and why our troops now feel more and more that their sacrifice is worth it.
Not only would this have been magnanimous, it would have been smart politics. It would have acknowledged the bipartisanship that underlies the decision to begin bringing our troops home by drawing an important line of continuity through our Iraq efforts of the past two years. It would have disarmed Obama's more hawkish critics on Iraq by conceding their point on the surge and turning it into an argument for the drawdown, which it is. And it would have shown Republicans that Obama is committed not just to a bipartisanship of style but of substance -- not just being willing to recognize when the other side has valid points, but actually incorporating them into one's own thinking.
The fact remains, we had to leave Iraq at some point. This is as good a time as any to start. And there is bipartisan support to do so, because of the events of the past two years.
The only reality as it relates to 2 years into the future, is that a lot can happen in 2 years. And the hidden reality from those who think the "war" is ended in Iraq by bringing American troops home is that President Obama wisely maintains flexibility on that.
More from Hewitt's interview with Ricks:
HH: Let’s talk about how it all ends.
TR: It doesn’t end, and I think this is the biggest problem that Obama’s going to have as he talks about Iraq. Obama’s going to be changed more by Iraq than he changes it. What do I mean by that? It’s what I was talking about yesterday, in that this over-optimistic approach, I can get out of Iraq quickly. No, you can’t. You’re stuck. Now I don’t think it’s Obama’s fault. I think that George Bush made a horrendous mistake in invading Iraq. The question is, how do you fix this? And my response is, and it kind of agrees with Petraeus, there is no good answer. The question is what’s the least bad answer. I think staying in Iraq is immoral. I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.
President Obama's speech was delivered for the sake of appearances and a photo-op, taking credit for the final two years of Bush's presidency, as it relates to the situation on the ground in Iraq. He gives credit to the troops, because he has to; any politician that didn't would be committing political suicide. He denies President #43 any credit because Barack Obama isn't as magnanimous and gracious and honest as his image portrays him to be. He is realistically and pragmatically, deeply partisan to the left.
Cross-posted at Flopping Aces
Of further interest:
Transcript to Thomas Rick's two-part interview with Hugh Hewitt:
Previous related posts:
Obama Abandons Commitment to Iraq Withdrawal Timetable
The Leaders Who Brought Victory to Iraq
Obama's Iraq Speech: Never Used the Word VICTORY!