The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
NY Post prints what NYT won't: McCain's OpEd Response to Obama
EDITORS' NOTE: The New York Times wouldn't print this oped from the GOP candidate.
AS he took command in Iraq in January 2007, Gen. David Petraeus called the situation "hard" but not "hopeless." Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80 percent to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation is full of hope - but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.
Progress has been due mainly to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Sen. Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent.
"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there," he said on Jan. 10, 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."
Now Sen. Obama has been forced to acknowledge that "our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence." But he still denies that any political progress has resulted. Perhaps he's unaware that the US embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, "Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress."
Even more heartening has been progress that's not measured by the benchmarks:
* More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists.
* Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has found the will to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City - dispelling suspicions that he's merely a sectarian leader.
The surge's success hasn't changed Sen. Obama's determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale.
In a New York Times op-ed and a speech last week he offered his "plan for Iraq" (in advance of his first "fact-finding" trip to Iraq in more than three years): It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months.
In 2007, he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we'd taken his advice, the war would have been lost. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.
To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Maliki has endorsed his timetable - when the Iraqi prime minister has merely said that he'd like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of US troops at some unspecified future point.
Sen. Obama is also misleading on the readiness of the Iraqi military. Iraq's army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year - but that doesn't mean, as Sen. Obama suggests, that it'll then be ready to secure the country without a good deal of help.
The Iraqi air force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications and other complex functions needed to support frontline troops.
No one favors a permanent US presence, as Sen. Obama charges. We've already seen a partial withdrawal with the departure of five "surge" brigades, and more can take place as the security situation improves.
As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields (such as Afghanistan) without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I've said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.
But I've also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground - not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Sen. Obama.
Sen. Obama has said that he'd consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his "plan for Iraq." Perhaps that's because he doesn't want to hear what they have to say.
During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I've heard many times from our troops what Major Gen. Jeffrey Hammond (commander of Coalition forces in Baghdad) recently said: Leaving based on a timetable would be "very dangerous."
The danger is that extremists supported by al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we've had too few troops in Iraq.
Sen. Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. Indeed, he's emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the "Mission Accomplished" banner prematurely.
I'm dismayed that he never talks about winning the war - only of ending it. But if we don't win the war, our enemies will - and a triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us.
As president, I won't let that happen. Instead, I'll continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.