In the summer of 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama was asked if he was worried that his proposed withdrawal from Iraq would result in ethnic cleansing or even genocide.
He scoffed at the premise.
"By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now -- where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife -- which we haven't done," he told the Associated Press. "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."
Obama glossed over a crucial distinction. The slaughter in Congo wasn't caused by our actions. The assumption behind the AP's question -- backed by countless experts -- was that a withdrawal from Iraq at the time would almost certainly lead to slaughter. Obama's remarkable answer was that even if you accepted the premise that leaving would ignite mass slaughter, it would still be right to bug out of Iraq.
Of course, as is his wont, Obama covered all of the rhetorical bases. He acknowledged that leaving prematurely would be bad.
"Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis," he insisted. "There's no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there."
Then came the patented Obama take-back. "It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions," he said.
As grotesque as Obama's moral argument was, it was unknowable at the time whether his analysis was correct. It's now pretty clear he was wrong on all counts.
When Obama pulled American troops out of Iraq, they were not serving as a magnet for terrorists; they were acting as a deterrent not only to terrorists but to "irresponsible" Iraqi factions.
(By the way, what is it with Obama and the word "irresponsible"? In Wednesday's press conference, Obama said that by targeting civilians, Hamas was behaving "extraordinarily irresponsibly." This is only slightly less condemnatory than "inadvisable" or "unproductive" -- and far more conciliatory than the language he uses about Republicans daily.)
Admittedly, he couldn't have predicted the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2007 any more than he could have predicted the debacle of his Syria policy and his vacillating "red line" rhetoric, which partly led to the rise of ISIS.
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