Obama's Tired Old Formula

Posted: May 23, 2008 12:01 AM
Obama's Tired Old Formula

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.

It's not so surprising that much of the Democratic Congressional leadership would fall into this trap. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are, after all, baby boomers who came of age during the Vietnam War. Iraq was always Vietnam redux for them. But Obama claims he represents a new generation, new ideas -- in his words, "change."

But he certainly hasn't let the facts change his opinion about what is going on in Iraq or what the United States should do in response. Like a broken record, he just keeps repeating the same old tune. If he really were a new kind of politician, he'd cheer what's happening in Iraq, compliment Prime Minister Maliki for his strides, and rethink his promise to undercut the progress by a precipitous withdrawal of all American troops.

In his stubborn refusal to admit things have changed in Iraq, Obama is looking more and more like a throwback to the Vietnam protestors who actively promoted America's defeat in order to prove they were right in their opposition to the Vietnam War. He may not be old enough to remember firsthand the shouts of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh," or the Viet Cong flags hoisted at anti-war rallies of that era. But the sentiment that the enemy must win in order for American policy to be thoroughly repudiated seems to hover just beneath the surface of his gloomy assessment of Iraq. Obama's pessimism is simply old school anti-Americanism dressed up in patriotic rhetoric.