Lost on Iraq
During tonight’s debate, all three Democrat candidates were asked about their plans for a long term American troop presence in Iraq. This question has been asked at all the Democrat debates. However, the answers given by any candidate have not been as revealing as the answer given tonight by Barack Obama. And both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards agreed with his answer, so presumably the sentiments in it can be attributed to them as well.
Tim Russert (who, by the way, has generally done a very job moderating job during this election season) reminded the candidates that at an earlier debate, none of them would commit to have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013. He noted that all now seem eager to have the troops out by 2009, and asked them to explain the contradiction.
Obama’s answer should call into question his grasp of any aspect of American foreign policy. Apparently, he has absolutely no idea of the struggle we are engaged in over there. His understanding of the facts seems to be literally nil.
He explained that while he was planning on pulling combat troops out of Iraq, he would keep a force in the country. Why? To protect our embassy (and with Al-Qaeada running Iraq, it would need defending), and for humanitarian purposes. The level of misunderstanding evident in this answer could perhaps be excused were the question, say, about our official policy towards Gabon, but this cluelessness on Iraq is mind-boggling.
Barack Obama seems to actually think that the Iraq insurgents are after us because we occupy Iraq. In fairness, there are undeniably some who do fight against perceived U.S. aggression. However, it is a safe bet that the majority of insurgents fight because of anger at the culture of the United States, and probably more importantly, a desire for power. Many insurgent leaders wish to seize control of Iraq, enrich themselves and their supporters, and establish a theocracy modeled on Iran.
Fairly or not (probably fairly), America is seen as the world’s policeman. Any American presence in Iraq would be perceived as interference, and thus a military problem. This would result in attacks against American forces. Is Barack Obama seriously considering putting U.S. soldiers in Iraq without the ability to go after their inevitable assailants?
Furthermore, what could these troops possibly do? Humanitarian aid…well, it might be difficult, what with enraged militants gunning for them and all. Also, aid deliveries might get a little off schedule with the civil war certain to occur if we leave Iraq now going on. Obama’s answer is stupid from beginning to end.
Of course, none of the Democrats will address the larger issue: do we owe anything to the Iraqi people? Many Iraqis have stood up to fight alongside us—in an Iraq Civil War, they would be targets. Our Kurdish allies have historically been persecuted by the Sunnis and Shiites. Do we owe them nothing?
It is undeniable that grave mistakes have been made in Iraq. We were overconfident (the “Mission Accomplished” banner was premature, liberals are correct about that), underinformed (remember “we will be greeted as liberators? Not for long), and most of all, pathless. With the surge, we at least have an idea of where we are going, and are seeing progress. But what about for the first four years? The strategy seems to have been to just muddle through and see what happens.
But clueless or not, mistakes or not, the United States of America made the decision to go into Iraq. And it is not as if George Bush dragged the country into the war. Congress—both parties—overwhelming approved the use of force. Perhaps entering Iraq was a bad idea, but both parties are equally culpable.
It is of no use to pretend that we can undo our Iraq decision. Scholars can debate the wisdom the determination, experts can dissect the troop strategies employed, and people can complain about George Bushes leadership, but we made the decision to topple Saddam, and withdrawing will not eradicate that decision from history. We must assume responsibility for the effects of that resolution.