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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moving the Iraq Goal Posts

Most recently, Barack Obama has been claiming that the success the surge has had in tamping down the violence.

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.

He has been saying this as though he predicted this all along. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The very success that we see in tamping down violence was something that Barack Obama predicted would NOT happen when the surge was first announced. Powerline breaks down his many statements at the beginning of the surge that were skeptical.

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.


We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality -- we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.


E]ven those who are supporting -- but here's the thing, Larry -- even those who support the escalation have acknowledged that 20,000, 30,000, even 40,000 more troops placed temporarily in places like Baghdad are not going to make a long-term difference.

These sorts of statements no longer fit the reality on the ground in Iraq, and so Barack Obama, like most Democrats, has started a clever shifting of the goal posts of success in Iraq. Harry Reid, for instance, famously said this in April of 2007

I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week,


know I was the odd guy out at the White House, but I told him at least what he needed to hear ... I believe the war at this stage can only be won diplomatically, politically and economically

When General Petraeus came to Capitol Hill in September of last year, Hillary Clinton famously said that Petreaus' tempered report on progress in Iraq required a "willing suspension of disbelief".

In other words, while it was still unclear that the surge had produced a sustained reduction in violence, the Democrats continued to claim that the surge had done nothing to reduce violence.

Of course, the surge began reducing violence in May, but beginning in September, that reduction became apparent. Once that happened, most of these same Democrats that refused to acknowledge that the surge would tamp down violence, now moved the goal posts. Now, they proclaimed that the surge was failing because even though violence had been reduced that didn't lead to any political reconciliation. Here is how one Democratic strategist described their plans in November of last year.

Right. Or so says the New York Times, which had the latest installment of the suffering-Democrats chestnut Sunday in the form of Patrick Healy's front-pager, "As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts." Healy says the leading Democratic presidential candidates are "undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging ... success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy."

"Lately, as the killing in Baghdad and other areas has declined," Healy writes, "the Democratic candidates have been dwelling less on the results of the troop escalation than on the lack of new government accords in Iraq -- a tonal shift from last summer and fall when American military commanders were preparing to testify before Congress asking for more time to allow the surge to show results."

The evidence of this "tonal shift"? Healy cites this statement from Hillary Clinton: "Our troops are the best in the world; if you increase their numbers they are going to make a difference ... The fundamental point here is that the purpose of the surge was to create space for political reconciliation, and that has not happened, and there is no indication that it is going to happen, or that the Iraqis will meet the political benchmarks. We need to stop refereeing their civil war and start getting out of it."

The same Hillary Clinton, who only two months earlier was proclaiming that any belief that reduction in violence was sustainable and substantial required a "willing suspension of disbelief", was now proclaiming that of course the surge had reduced violence but that didn't lead to any political reconciliation. Thus, the surge was still a failure.

This was the first stunning movement of the proverbial goal posts by Democrats against the surge. Of course, their problem was that just like they were wrong about their initial assessment about the surge not reducing violence, they would eventually be wrong about political reconciliation.

Throughout the fall and winter, the Iraqi central government made small but tangible progress. They passed a de Baathification law, scheduled regional elections, and beefed up their own security forces. Then, in May, the central government took a step of historic proportions. They simultaneously sent the Iraqi militar to take on JAM in Basrah and AQI in Mosul. The Iraqis lead this operation against terrorists within their borders and the terrorists included folks from both the Sunni and Shia sect. As a result, Nuri Al Maliki gained newfound respect, authority and leadership. Here is how liberal columnist Joe Klein described a cabinet meeting recently.

Indeed, the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as little more than a place-holder only months ago.

Then, came the clincher. The U.S. embassy in Iraq determined that the Iraqis had met 15 of the 18 benchmarks "satisfactorily". In its aftermath, the Democrats are now choosing their words very carefully. Take a look at how Barack Obama described Iraqi political reconciliation yesterday.

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.

He singles out the oil sharing law because that is one of the three that is still not met. He then uses the vague term "political accomodations" to continue to present a case of lack of progress. In fact, in that same Op-Ed, Obama decided to move the goal posts to what will likely be the new reason for the failure of the surge, according to the Democrats.

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

Now, the Democrats are likely to claim the surge is a failure because things have turned south in Afghanistan. In fact, in a stunning turnaround, more troops have been dying in that country than in Iraq for the last couple of months.

Leaving aside the validity of that argument (and it is debunked rather well, in my opinion, in this piece by Christopher Hitchens) it is quite remarkable to watch the exact same folks move the goal posts for success not once but twice. Either the surge would tamp down violence or it wouldn't. Either the lessening in violence would lead to political reconciliation or it wouldn't. At some point enough is enough. Afghanistan is a separate theater. The operation isn't even being headed by the U.S. but rather NATO. If a change in strategy is necessary, then we need to have one. If more troops are necessary then we need to send them in, or even better, have some of our NATO partners provide more. It's success or failure has nothing to do with the success of the surge in Iraq. Furthermore, this disingenuous moving of the goal posts needs to stop. Politicians hate nothing more than admitting they were wrong, but they can't be allowed to change the terms of success in the middle in order to make themselves look right either.


Anonymous said...

This Barack hussein Obama is clearly a muslim.I m myself a muslim,and proud of if.If one can think about it:father muslim raised in muslim country by muslim step father,and,I would like anybody to name me a single christian who s name is hussein!Ever wonder why the team comes out so forecefully when anybody raise at issue?Please say ure muslim and I vote for you Hussein

mike volpe said...

That's great though the diatrobe has nothing to do with anything I said, and thus it is totally irrelevant.