Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Draft of History, Revised Version

From the Associated Press today:

Obama's balancing act on Iraq withdrawal strategy

By JENNIFER LOVEN – 1 hour ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama leaned heavily toward field commanders' preferences in setting a time frame for an Iraq pullout, as he weighed the fervent desires of anti-war supporters who propelled him into office and the equally strong worries of war generals. . . .

At stake was the promise that most defined Obama's presidential bid: to bring all combat troops home — effectively, to end one of the nation's longest and most controversial wars — 16 months after taking office.

This isn’t the way I remember it. It wasn’t the anti-war activists who propelled President Obama into office. Propulsion was provided by the much more prosaic means of organized labor, the Democratic machines in urban America, a locked-down black vote, the mainstream media taking an active role in campaigning for him, and a poorly-run campaign by Senator John McCain that had nothing to attract swing voters drifting into the Obama current.

Nor was ending the Iraq war the promise that most defined Obam's campaign. The promise that most defined Obama’s presidential bid--if we exclude the slogan “hope & change” from the definition of “promise”--was that he would dramatically increase the government’s taxation and regulatory role in American lives.

For the most part Obama avoided talking about the war, especially as the news from Iraq got better and better as the campaign progressed. He also avoided the biggest mouths of the anti-war movement, and we know he dumped his friendship with people like antiwar icon Bill Ayres. Obama wanted to win bad and he knew those folks would turn him into Eugene McCarthy if they could.

I am relieved that Obama is listening to his commanders, and did not initiate the kind of hell-for-leather rout that some of us feared he might. I can’t quite give him credit for being smart about the Middle East, though: I still think he’s a foreign-policy disaster. But he’s too much a political animal to want to lose a major war during the first few weeks of his presidency.

But as I discussed in another post, the media giving him credit for ending the war is pure BS. As far back as a year ago January Bush’s successes in Iraq were pushing the war off the list of top campaign issues. “Instead,” reported the New York Times on January 3, 2008, “candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes.” (“Domestic Issues Now Outweigh Iraq”).

Weeks before the election, commentators were already discussing post-war Iraq and redeployment of Iraqi troops to Afghanistan, like this from October: "'On Iraq, no matter who wins, the arrows are clear,' said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. 'The U.S. presence is coming down.'” ("Iran & Iraq: No Longer Hot-Button Issues in Campaign 2008").

I know we were already discussing the war in Iraq as nearly over in October, too, here, and here.

In January 2008 Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh reported that the status of forces agreement Bush was starting to negotiate with the Iraqi government was going to be what determined the future of American forces there. The SOFA “would then replace the existing Security Council mandate authorizing the presence of the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq, [and] will become a sworn obligation for the next president.” The upshot of that agreement, Hirsh pointed out, was that “the next president, Democrat or Republican, is likely to be handed a fait accompli that could well render moot his or her own elaborate withdrawal plans, especially the ones being considered by the two leading Democratic contenders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.” (“Sorry, Barack, You’ve Lost Iraq./Bush's efforts to negotiate a long-term U.S-Iraq pact may remove troops as an '08 election issue for Obama, Clinton.”)

Just something to keep in mind as Obama supporters fan out across the airwaves to trumpet Obama's principled and heroic decision to end the war in Iraq that Bush and Petraeus had already won.

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