T hanks Mr. President, But Where Were You When We Needed You?
By David H. Landon
While none of the 2008 crop of Democratic Presidential candidates could be considered “pro-Iraq War,” Barack Obama attempted to stake out his especially strong anti-war position in order to separate himself from the others and especially from his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. While Hillary suggested a more moderate position of ending the war based upon conditions on the ground, Barack won the left wingnuts and “Code Pink” fringe of the Democratic Party by promising that his first act as president would be to begin to bring the troops home. Now after 19 months in office, President Obama is doing exactly what Hillary said she would have done. Under his present plan, the last troops to leave Iraq will depart at the end of 2011.
On August 31, President Obama addressed the nation and in an effort to establish his “bona fides” in foreign policy, he sought credit for “ending the combat mission” in Iraq. Following the plan that the President, as our Commander in Chief, has laid out for our military, on August 31 the U.S. mission in Iraq will shift from one of combat troops to a “training and advisory” mission in support of the Iraqi government and its security forces. Perhaps a quick review of how we’ve come to a point where we are even able to consider transforming our military role in Iraq is in order.
In the latter part of 2006 and into 2007, the war in Iraq was going badly. Sectarian violence instigated by al-Qaeda insurgents had led to indiscriminate torture, kidnappings and killings. Here at home, the constant barrage of negative stories from the mainstream media had soured the American public on the war. Determined to turn Iraq into President Bush’s Vietnam, every Democrat in Washington took great delight in predicting that the war was being lost. As a result of the war going poorly and an embarrassing lack of spending discipline by the Republicans in Congress, the Democratic Party regained control of Congress.
In early 2007, and after a review of the Iraqi war plan, President Bush, supported by John McCain and other Republicans, announced that the situation required more U.S. combat forces taking the fight to the insurgents and unveiled what became known as the “surge” strategy with General David Petraeus leading the effort. At the Senate confirmation hearing for Petraeus, then Senator Barack Obama declared that the troop surge would not work, stating “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” Sadly, even to this day, Obama has never admitted that he was wrong. And of course we remember the prophetic words of that monumental military genius,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who declared in April 2007 that “this war is lost.”
In fact, whether or not the Democrats can bring themselves to accept it, the surge worked. By late summer General Petraeus reported back to the Congress that the military objectives of the surge were being met. He reported that Coalition and Iraqi Forces had dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda Iraq and had disrupted Shia militias, that ethno-sectarian violence had been reduced, and that the tribal rejection of al-Qaeda had spread from Anbar Province to numerous other locations across Iraq. By fall 2007, the picture in Iraq had changed. After the number of troops reached its peak in fall 2007, U.S. deaths were at their lowest levels since the 2003 invasion, civilian casualties were down, and street life was resuming in Baghdad.
By the early part of 2008, and based upon his observations of the progress, Petraeus recommended drawing down the surge forces from Iraq and gradually transitioning increased responsibilities to Iraqi Forces. The reduction of U.S. forces was predetermined by the changing conditions on the ground. While Barack Obama ran around the country as the presidential candidate who would immediately upon his election “get us out of Iraq,” the U.S. military was working the plan that was designed to do that very thing. As the conditions on the ground improved and the Iraqi security forces came of age, our military set the stage for the latest transition for which Obama is trying to claim credit: ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq. I shouldn’t be too hard on the President. This type of understanding of the how the U.S. military works isn’t something that even the most ardently trained community organizers have the opportunity to experience and learn.
All Americans should be proud of our troops who performed remarkably and heroically under extremely difficult circumstances. On August 31 their mission changed. All is not perfect in Iraq as the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are still working out the details of how to share power. But remember, it took the newly formed U.S. government from 1781 until 1789 to abandon the Articles of Confederation and
stablish the limited government model of the U.S. constitution. And while the differences between the Quakers and the Presbyterians were significant, they pale compared to the range of issue facing the various factions in Iraq. Be patient. Watch freedom take hold.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at