Friday, May 30, 2008

Debate in Iraq

Likely Democrat Presidential standard-bearer, Senator Barack Obama, has only been in Iraq on one occasion. And that was nearly two and a half years ago, back in January of 2006. Putative Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, however, has been there on eight separate occasions. Senator Hillary Clinton has also been to Iraq on a few occasions.

Nor, it seems, has Senator Obama been to Afghanistan at all. Both McCain and Clinton have toured Afghanistan. And, as pointed out by Sam Youngman back in early March at The Hill (H.T., Ed Morrissey, below), Obama has skipped two out of three meetings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held on Afghanistan, since he joined the panel. As the Chair of a Subcommittee covering Afghanistan, he has yet to schedule a meeting.

Early yesterday, Ed Morrissey at HotAir posted a portion of a Wall Street Journal WashingtonWire blog post reporting that, while very recently traveling in South Dakota, Hillary Clinton had noted at one stop that she had been to both Iraq and Afghanistan more often than Senator Barack Obama. And, she further noted that for part of the time, she had traveled with Senator John McCain, which she described favorably. In the midst of making some campaign-related rhetorical comments about the war, she added:

"I have the highest respect and regard for Sen. McCain, he and I have actually gone to Iraq and Afghanistan together," she said. "And I honor his service to our country and his patriotism."

Responding to rather intense pressure heaped on him over the past few days, Senator Obama is quoted at the New York Times blog, The Caucus now saying that he is "considering" going to Iraq to see the situation first-hand. He likely did so because, in addition to the challenge put to him by McCain, over the past several days he has been subjected to intense pressure coming from ads being launched by an Iraq veteran's group called "Vets For Freedom."

Here is the link to their webpage with their latest ad, featuring Specialist Kate Norley, an Iraq veteran combat medic, who challenges Obama to revisit Iraq anew to witness first-hand the remarkable progress there, and also to agree to meet "unconditionally" with General Petraeus -- an obvious allusion to his controversially expressed willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad of Iran (amongst a litany of bad actors). There are other media clips linked at the "Vets For Freedom" website in their Media Center.

Senator John McCain had previously suggested that Obama travel to Iraq with him. While Obama caved in to some of that pressure by giving consideration to a trip, he rejected the idea of traveling with McCain, calling that a "political stunt." His campaign did not explain why they considered it a stunt, but it is pretty obvious they fear political embarrassment.

By no means am I the first to suggest the following idea, but it occurs to me that Senator Obama and John McCain could agree not only to travel to Iraq, but also to hold the first general election debate there, in front of our American troops.

Each man aspires to be the Commander-in-Chief, and this would give to our troops an immediate and well-deserved acknowledgement of the high respect that so many of us feel for them as our defenders, regardless of our, or their, political party preferences or affiliations.

Certainly Senator Obama does not believe that holding and participating in a debate is a "political stunt," having participated in literally scores of them during the primary season, and having thereby persuaded a majority of the voters and caucus participants in his own party to favor his candidacy over that of Hillary Clinton. She was, after all, the overwhelming favorite at the beginning of the primary campaign season.

What greater legacy could we Americans leave to this fledgling democratic state in the Middle East, than to vividly demonstrate how politics can be a rough and tumble, but respectful clash of ideas, which we engage in in order to select our own leaders and choose our own destiny? When this election process is done, we will have selected a new President, House of Representatives, and a number of Senators, and we will move on in accordance with priorities chosen by We the People. The people in the other states in the region would likewise witness such a debate with rapt attention as well, no?

And, what more vivid reminder and demonstration to the American people could there be of the significant role our military, and others, including a new Iraqi security apparatus, have played within Iraq and elsewhere in fighting al-Qaeda terror?

Today, John Hinderaker at Powerline has outlined the increasingly serious dilemma faced by Senator Obama, as it becomes more and more clear to the American public that Obama's assessment of the situation in Iraq one year ago was simply wrong. Moreover, his stated solution -- to immediately begin a phased withdraw -- would most likely have unleashed a painful, and perhaps tragic social disruption in Iraq, and throughout the region, as well as a concomitant major setback in American foreign policy. Senator McCain's position, though bold and seemingly risky at the time, clearly seems to have been the correct prescription.

As John notes:

The problem for Obama is that it is hard to see how he can go to Iraq without acknowledging that the surge has succeeded, violence has been reduced, and the Iraqis are making considerable political progress. If he goes to Iraq, he has to meet with generals, soldiers and Marines, and they will tell him these things. But if Obama admits that we are succeeding in Iraq, he is admitting that John McCain was right all along. He can't do that.
Obama's Iraq policy is increasingly at odds with realities on the ground, and more and more voters are becoming aware of that fact. Obama can't stay away from Iraq until November. His advisers must be trying to figure out how to fit such a trip into a narrative that will hold water through the election. For now, they may just be hoping for things to get worse. But when they do finally announce a trip to Iraq, the nature of that visit will likely hold the key to how Obama intends to handle the increasingly dangerous (for him) issue of Iraq in the fall.
Neither engaging in wishful thinking, nor having his surrogates lie about (H.T. Allahpundit, here) his pre-surge position, is any kind of plan. So in a way, he might be better off dealing with the issue and in a bold way right now. Politically, Senator Obama could show some mettle by stepping right into the lion's den" on this critical issue, and agree to a debate with Senator McCain in Iraq, in front of our troops. Otherwise, he will continue being visibly backed against the ropes by John McCain before he's even officially declared the candidate!

And after all, didn't he boldly utter the title quote to David Nason, the New York correspondent to The Australian, less than two weeks ago, in "Obama's Iraq challenge: debate me":
"If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate I am happy to have anytime, any place." (emphasis added)
A wag at this point might be tempted to say, "Okay. How's the Green Zone sound?"

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At 8:57 PM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Thomas O. Meehan said...

Clearly Obama is back on his heels regarding the political theater of debating in Iraq. A nerd, he is bound to look all too Dukakis-like in a military setting. Still, it shouldn't be hard for him to find Iraqs who are shall we say, ungrateful for all we've done for them. The more the American people see ordinary Arabs the more they are likely to say, "We sacrificing our children for these wretches?"

Personally I'd prefer that they debate at the South Pole where they can debate global warming in the nude.

At 11:52 AM, June 01, 2008, Blogger Trochilus said...

Got a sarcastic e-mail from one regular reader saying, "Obama can stay there after the debate."

I replied, "Heh. Maybe he could be a community organizer."

Addressing the situation on a more serious level, the one thing that surprises me is that Senator Obama does not acknowledge, in any respect, the extraordinary work and sacrifice of our military over the past year in the notable success of the counter-insurgency operation, implemented through the leadership of General Petraeus.

In spite of the risks, that strategy turned the tide in huge areas of Iraq.

Here we have in Senator Obama someone who should be able to appreciate first-hand the difficulties of confronting demagogury and building trust in a situation involving severe social dislocation. Obviously, I am not suggesting there is a direct correlation, but only in a general way.

Whether or not one opposed the initial incursion into Iraq, is simply immaterial in that sense.

The Democrats' 2006 demands for immediate withdraw and redeployment were utterly irresponsible, and we would now all likely be witnessing a humanitarian debacle had we simply "cut and run" the way Democrats wanted.

Who can dispute that al-Qaeda in Iraq, and indeed the entire movement, would have gained a huge victory by our defeat, underscoring their history of tempestuous rampage? And who can doubt this would have spelled out a major strategic setback for the United States in the most dangerous region in the world?

As it is, Lawrence Wright reports in an article in The New Yorker, that even a "mastermind" behind the al-Qaeda justifications for the employment of extreme violence, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka, Dr. Fadl, a man whose early works were used to underscore the "justification" for such extremely violent jihad, has now publicly repudiated those views. (H.T. Hugh Hewitt)

By all means, please read the article, and Hugh Hewitt's interview of Lawrence Wright.


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