Barack Obama must be too busy declaring victory to read a newspaper. How else can you explain the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's obliviousness to what is going on in Iraq at this very moment?
Both The New York Times and the Washington Post this week had front-page stories about successful operations by Iraqi forces to root out Shiite militias in Baghdad's Sadr City -- a significant turning point in the war and a huge accomplishment for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But there Obama was Tuesday evening patting himself on the back for his Oregon primary victory while once again repeating the same old tired formulation about the "failed" Bush policy in Iraq, "that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians."
Sadr City has been a major problem for Maliki's fragile government. When Sunni tribal leaders last year began to turn against the insurgency -- whose forces were swelled with foreign fighters and which had killed thousands of Sunnis, as well as Shiites and Americans -- Maliki came under increasing pressure to rein in Shiite militias. His first effort to do so in Basra, a Shiite city the south of Iraq, was largely successful despite early reports of massive desertion by Iraqi troops and logistical problems. But Sadr City has always been the toughest nut to crack, with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militias ruling the streets in the enclave of 2 million people.
Iraqi troops were able to move into Sadr City and restore order there, allowing civil society to function, precisely because Maliki's Shiite-dominated government is making significant strides in political reconciliation with Sunnis. So why can't Obama acknowledge this improvement? Because he's invested too much in the Iraqis -- and the U.S. -- failing.
Now, Gen. David Petraeus, who currently leads U.S. forces in Iraq but has been nominated to take over the entire U.S. Central Command, says that things are going so well in Iraq that the U.S. will be able to withdraw more troops from there in the fall. But this type of good news is bad news to Sen. Obama, and most Democrats.
Obama and his fellow Democrats are stuck in a time warp. The Democratic candidates -- Hillary Clinton only slightly less so than Obama -- have been counting on military and political failure in Iraq. When things started improving with the surge in U.S. troops and the so-called Sunni Awakening last year, they couldn't retool their messages to take account of the improved situation.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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