The adoring media coverage of Barack Obama’s international tour is masking the reality that, whether he wins or loses, we’re almost certain to be stuck in Iraq for a long time, thanks to the legacy of George Bush.
The coverage has been overwhelmingly flattering as Obama made his way through Afghanistan and Iraq, held a press conference in Jordan, dipped into the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire and then headed to Europe and the United Kingdom.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee looked in command, presidential and youthfully energetic—a picture emphasized by the basket he shot from three-point territory in front of the troops. It was a contrast to the picture of Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, looking ready for a retirement community as he rode a golf cart during a visit to former President George H.W. Bush in Maine.
Obama was relaxed and confident as he talked to reporters at the photogenic Citadel, the ancient fortified hill in the heart of Amman in Jordan. If images are proof that he’s up to the job, the day was a success.
Beyond the words and images, a clearer picture of Obama’s Iraq policy emerged, in the press conference and his television network interviews.
As he has from early in his presidential campaign, Obama, while pledging to withdraw all combat brigades by the summer of 2010, said he would keep enough troops in Iraq and the region to conduct counterterrorism operations and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel.
And if there was an outbreak of ethnic violence that “presented the possibility of genocide,” he said in Jordan, he would “retain the right to intervene,” hopefully with the cooperation of allies.
All this adds up to an open-ended commitment. But it is probably unavoidable. President Bush’s decision to go to war put us in a morass. There is no easy way out of it, and the generals will no doubt emphasize the difficulties of withdrawal.
Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, reiterated to Obama what he told his Senate confirmation hearing. He favors troop reductions “as conditions permit.” But, “this approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable ...,” he said to the senators.
A strong hint of the gloomy scenario the commanders would offer a President Obama was given in an article last month by Michael Eisenstadt for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington think tank whose board of advisers range from former Secretary of State Warren Christopher to die-hard neocon hawks. It sounds like the kind of advice the new president would get from the Washington Establishment, which generally supported the Iraq invasion.
He wrote: “ ... Obama would likely be subject to intense pressures by senior US generals and diplomats and key US allies to go slow with any prospective withdrawal. ... Moreover, it may not be possible to withdraw forces at the rate of one-two brigades a month [Obama’s goal] while simultaneously conducting stability operations, without abandoning large quantities of munitions and equipment ... or destroying them in place.”
Obama would hopefully be skeptical of such advice. His expressed willingness to oppose the generals has been one of the most important developments of the trip.
For example, in Jordan he raised a hypothetical issue in which Petraeus would tell him American funds were needed for an Iraqi electrification project. Obama said he’d tell the Iraqis to use their own money now that their oil revenues have doubled. As he told ABC, “If we’re spending $10 billion a month over the next four or five years, that’s $10 billion a month we’re not using to rebuild the U.S. or drawing down our national debt or making sure that families have health care. So these are all trade-offs the next president is going to have to make.”
No doubt an Obama presidency would mean fewer troops in Iraq. That’s what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to want. Iraq doesn’t want a repeat of the oppression of the British occupation of the 1920s and 1930s.
McCain continues to falsely cast the debate in terms of “victory” (his policy) and “defeat” (Obama). But McCain, too, is promising to bring home troops. Why is his “victory” different from Obama’s “defeat”?
McCain may be beginning to understand that the country is sick of the war. Farewell to the Bush neocon dream of an Iraq filled with American bases and troops and mercenary contractors protecting oil fields run by American oil companies.
But our commitment to Afghanistan is bound to increase. That is a brutal and complex war, with no end in sight.
These are the realities that are being overlooked amid the media’s wild enthusiasm over Obama’s well-staged tour. We’re stuck for a long time with difficult wars in hostile lands. Thank you, George Bush.
on his trip.