Tonight President Barack Obama will deliver a prime-time Oval Office address on Iraq. Acting as President of the United States, the leader of a country, not a movement, tonight would be a perfect time for Obama to give due credit to those commanders who made the current progress in Iraq possible. He should thank Gen. Ray Odierno, who implemented the counterinsurgency strategy that led to the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw all coalition forces in Iraq during the surge, and President George W. Bush, who had the courage to explain the new strategy to the American people at a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so.
Unfortunately, if the Weekly Address President Obama delivered from his rented vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard is any indication, none of that will happen. Instead of uniting the country behind our effort in Iraq, this is how President Obama chose to open his remarks: “As a candidate for this office, I pledged I would end this war. As President, that is what I am doing. We have brought home more than 90,000 troops since I took office.” The President’s love affair with first person singular pronouns aside, this is just plain false. Throughout the campaign, candidate Obama promised the progressive movement that he would “immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” specifically calling for the removal of “one to two combat brigades each month.”
Fortunately, when Obama finally took the oath of office, he did not “rely on some plan that hes crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator,” as his former adviser Samantha Power predicted. Instead, he adopted a less ambitious 19-month draw down that promised combat would “end” by August 2010. In truth, the Administration’s self-imposed “end of combat” is a semantic distinction that does not adequately reflect the situation on the ground. Hostile Iraqi and foreign forces in Iraq have not ended their attacks on allied forces.
On August 12, Iraq’s top military leader, General Babaker Zebari, warned that Iraqi security forces will not be able to fully secure their own country until 2020. “If I were asked about the withdrawal,” he said, “I would say to politicians: The U.S. Army must stay until the Iraq Army is fully ready in 2020.” The President should acknowledge this need for continued military assistance, signal that the U.S. remains firmly engaged as a dependable ally and dispel the growing perception that Washington is intent on a quick exit regardless of the dangerous consequences of such a gamble.
Instead of sending these calming signals, President Obama seems intent on giving sustenance to our enemies by sticking to arbitrary and unrealistic political deadlines. For Iraq, Obama again made clear on Saturday that he plans to remove all troops by the end of 2011. And in Afghanistan, President Obama still maintains that he will begin drawing down forces by July 2011. One would hope that the Obama administration would have learned from its abject failure to close Guantanamo Bay that arbitrary political deadlines are a fool’s errand.
As a candidate, Barack Obama could afford to indulge in irresponsible rhetoric about “ending” the war in Iraq without regard for the disastrous consequences of losing that war. But as president, Obama should act decisively as the nations commander-in-chief and protect vital American interests by successfully finishing the jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan.