In the Arena


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The Washington Post convenes a symposium of wise people with regard to Iraq…and some not so wise people like Douglas Feith and Randy Scheunemann, who brought you this disaster and are now crowing that Obama has taken the McCain path out of Iraq. Here’s Scheunemann:

Now, we should all hope President Obama continues to listen to Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, rebuffs his left-wing critics and stays the course with an Iraq policy John McCain might have formulated.

Actually, the path McCain wanted to formulate, with Scheunemann’s assistance, was to establish permanent–100-year–US military bases in Iraq. That path, and the continual comparison of Iraq to South Korea, Germany and Japan, was always absurd. It was dismissed out of hand by the Iraqis last summer when Nuri al-Maliki came out in support of Obama’s general timetable, which took a big issue that McCain hoped to exploit off the table in the presidential campaign. (Remember, the post-debate polls showed overwhelming support for  Obama’s position on Iraq as opposed to McCain’s.) Obama has lengthened the time of withdrawal from 16 months to 19, which the neoconservatives now hope to portray as a concession to their reasoned point of view. It isn’t: their desire was to see Iraq as a perpetual US military launching pad, especially against Iran. They also opposed talks with Iran. Their position has been flatly rejected on both counts. The idea that they’d try to take credit for Obama’s fulfillment of his campaign promise now is both hilarious and typical.  

Add: On the other side of the spectrum, Andrew Bacevich’s criticism of the Obama Administration seems premature at best:

Yet in [shifting the emphasis to Afghanistan], he implicitly recommits the United States to what has become an open-ended military endeavor.

Lost in the shuffling of troops is any clear understanding of that endeavor’s strategic rationale… To imagine that simply trying harder in Afghanistan and Pakistan will produce a happier outcome is surely a fantasy.

That’s certainly possible. But all options in Afghanistan are currently being reviewed. And even though Bacevich is right–Iraq has been an enormous waste of American resources and credibility–there is the need for a strategy to combat the jihadis who currently have safe havens along the Af/Pak border. I’m not sure that Obama’s strategy will resemble the “Long War” against Islamic terrorism that military strategists have been planning. It might well, but–from what I hear–a good part of the motivation for the current Af/Pak review is to think through a way to deal with problem without falling into a sinkhole. 

One other thing: Several eagle-eyed commenters noted that I fudged the final withdrawal date for all US troops. True enough: I’m not sure every single American trooper, except the Marine guards at the embassy,will have been withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. I suspect there may still be some–a negligble amount, but some–Americans helping to train Iraqi forces, especially in logistical areas and the use of sophisticated military equipment. One thing six years of Iraq has taught me is you don’t make absolute statements about anything.