Thursday, July 03, 2008

George Packer and Fareed Zakaria Offer Obama a Way Out on Iraq

Two years ago you could even hear Republicans grudgingly acknowledge that President Bush had an Iraq problem. His rhetoric was too inflexible to adapt to shifting realities in Iraq, and Americans were losing patience.

How quickly political fortunes change. Today it seems it's the Democrats who are not keeping up with shifting realities in Iraq.

In the latest New Yorker George Packer candidly explains Obama's Iraq Problem:
Obama’s plan, which was formally laid out last September, called for the remaining combat brigades to be pulled out at a brisk pace of about one per month, along with a strategic shift of resources and attention away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. At that rate, all combat troops would be withdrawn in sixteen months. In hindsight, it was a mistake—an understandable one, given the nature of the media and of Presidential politics today—for Obama to offer such a specific timetable. In matters of foreign policy, flexibility is a President’s primary defense against surprise. At the start of 2007, no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year. The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush’s surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia’s unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment. With the level of violence down, the Iraqi government and Army have begun to show signs of functioning in less sectarian ways. These developments may be temporary or cyclical; predicting the future in Iraq has been a losing game. Indeed, it was President Bush’s folly to ignore for years the shifting realities on the ground.

...[Obama] doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, re├źnergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”
Syndicated columnist Fareed Zakaria concurs with Packer. In "What Obama Should Say On Iraq," he argues that Obama and the Democrats need more than just a new narrative on Iraq, they need to offer a serious policy "informed by the conditions on the ground today." Zakaria writes:
Barack Obama needs to give a speech about Iraq. Otherwise he will find himself in the unusual position of having being prescient about the war in 2002 and yet being overtaken by events in 2008.
Zakaria then proceeds to offer Obama a well-argued speech to help get him out of the corner that his campaign rhetoric has painted him into. It's a good speech, and one can only hope that Obama's speech writers and foreign policy advisers are taking note.

1 comment:

John said...

Evidently Obama has decided to follow the advice of Packer and Zakaria.

Charles Krauthammer's July 4th proceeds to flay Obama for this flip-flop, stating: "I underestimated Obama's cynicism."

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the antiwar crowd who formed the basis of Obama's successful primary coalition are pretty dismayed by what also appears to them as a cynical move and a betrayal for political gain.

As a member of that second group, I am pretty upset myself. Let's not forget that Zakaria was pro-war back before this all began. As a consequence, I don't know why he should be seen as such a fount of wisdom.

No less an expert than the Iraqi Ali Allawi has said that the Iraqis are quite capable of sorting out their differences after a US withdrawal, without resorting to a civil war.

I'll take Allawi over Zakaria any day.

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