Today the editors of the Washington Post joined the chorus: “BARACK OBAMA has taken a small but important step toward adjusting his outdated position on Iraq to the military and strategic realities of the war he may inherit.”
Of course not everyone agrees on the refinement of Obama’s Iraq plan. We received this eloquent comment from John: “…the antiwar crowd who formed the basis of Obama's successful primary coalition is pretty dismayed by what also appears to them as a cynical move and a betrayal for political gain.”
Here at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) we believe Obama’s move is not a departure from his commitment to end the war. Instead we see it as a sign that Obama is finally recognizing the inconvenient truth about Iraq. In short, removing U.S. forces from Iraq would not end the war, and if done rapidly on an arbitrary timetable, could reverse whatever gains have been made over the past year. For Obama (and McCain) to show a true commitment to ‘ending the war’, they must offer a plan for drawing down U.S. forces in a way that supports a free and secure Iraq.
During the primaries, Obama’s “rapid withdrawal” plan (or “best case scenario plan” as Samantha Power rightly put it) sounded a lot like the plan offered by Rep. John Murtha two years ago. The following is our critique of Rep. Murtha’s plan for rapid withdrawal, originally posted on December 8, 2006:
Like John Murtha's plan, Senator Barack Obama's vision for drawing down U.S. troops within 16 months of his inauguration (2 combat brigades per month) resonates strongly with many Americans. Yet unlike Murtha, Obama pledges to do so in a way that leaves stability behind. However, the question remains: how?
At a December 7th Capital Hill press conference, Rep. "Jack" Murtha (D-PA) said we should rapidly pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and "...redeploy to the periphery, to Kuwait, to Okinawa, and if there's a terrorist activity that affects our allies or affects the United States' national security, we can then go back in."
Rather than offering a peaceful resolution to the war, Rep. Murtha offers a hawkish "containment policy" that risks prolonging the conflict, destabilizing the region, and escalating political violence, resulting in a far bloodier U.S. military intervention down the road.
While Murtha's assessment of the U.S. military and its needs are spot on, he fails to understand what the U.S. war in Iraq has set into motion. The prospect of a Shi'a-dominated Iraq alarms regional Sunni Arab leaders and many Sunni Muslims, and that is part of what is fueling the insurgency and the recruitment of foreign jihadists. If left unresolved, prolonged sectarian violence will ignite a major civil war with regional powers taking sides (much like we saw during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war). Murtha dismisses that danger as 1) already happening, and 2) not our problem. Here's his statement:
"I'm not talking about going back in if there's civil war, because we're in a civil war right now. We're caught in between a civil war right now. "
On both counts, he is partly correct. Yes: for some Iraqi militia and insurgent groups, the country is already in a state of civil war. And yes: the U.S. should not escalate Iraq's civil war by choosing sides. But that does not mean that U.S. forces should simply pull out. Doing so before Iraq can establish its own governance and security would create a much larger, far bloodier civil war. And the resulting power vacuum would more than likely pull competing regional powers into the conflict
Obama's campaign website outlines a plan for ending the war in Iraq by re-balancing U.S. policy through effective diplomacy, humanitarian relief, development and peace-building. His website includes this about Iraq's humanitarian crisis:
Barack Obama believes that America has both a moral obligation and a responsibility for security that demands we confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis—more than five million Iraqis are refugees or are displaced inside their own country. Obama will form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary.In contrast, as of this date, McCain's campaign website makes no mention of Iraq's humanitarian crisis.
Committing $2 billion to address the urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable Iraqis, including millions who have fled violence, is a good start. But to translate his vision into a reality he must go further to answer the question of "how?" Here at EPIC, we plan to challenge both candidates to do much better.
Photo Caption: Barack Obama speaks about Iraq. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall