The economy will have to take a backseat when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th president, because on January 21st he will end the war in Iraq. "I intend to end this war. My first day in office," Mr. Obama said in July. However forward-thinking he may have been then, in an interview Sunday on "Meet The Press", Mr. Obama seemed to put the brakes on (or at least back pedal from) his campaign rhetoric.
Reality may be setting in early, but remember, this was the candidate whose mantra out of the campaign gate was that he opposed President Bush's "dumb war," consistently demanded immediate troop withdrawal (he crafted a plan to begin troop withdrawls in May 2007 to be completed by May 2008), criticized the "commanders" on the ground for having the audacity to suggest a surge strategy, called it a "failure" and once it ultimately proved successful, refused to acknowledge it as that. Yet he has now coalesced around President Bush's pullout plan with "agreement."
Is Mr. Obama the least bit contrite? Not.
"Well, one of my first acts as President, once I'm sworn in, will be to bring in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to bring in my national security team, and design a plan for a responsible drawdown," the president-elect told Tom Brokaw over the weekend. A "responsible drawdown?" What happened to ending the war? (By the way, the drawdown plan was crafted and introduced by Gen. David Petraeus in testimony before Congress last September.) Mr. Obama continued: "What I want to do is tell our Joint Chiefs let's do it as quickly as we can do to maintain stability in Iraq, maintain the safety of U.S. troops, to provide a mechanism so that Iraq can start taking more responsibility as a sovereign responsibility for its own safety and security, ensuring that you don't see any resurgence of terrorism in Iraq that could threaten our interests." Again - uh - we're doing that now. It is exactly what Gen. Petraeus testified to in 2007, and in fact is what the Bush administration has been saying to a seeminlgy deaf press, "stuck on stupid" timelines.
Certainly there have been bad decisions and regrets by the administration, as Secretary of State Condolezza Rice acknowledged on Fox News Sunday. It reported that she " regrets the U.S. relied on flawed intelligence as the basis for going to war in Iraq and take partial responsibility for mismanaging the post-invasion occupation." Mr. Bush expressed the same sentiment in interviews over the weekend. Yet, as much as the mainstream media has been obessesively occupied with President Bush's "failure to admit mistakes," they don't share that same obesession for Mr. Obama's "failure to admit success." His grand declarations about troop withdrawals to Mr. Brokaw are nothing new, except that they were not Mr. Obama's original pronouncements about how he would handle "ending" the war in Iraq.
The point of focus is and always has been on victory (a word that fails to cross Mr. Obama's lips), not defeat. And despite the successes taking place in Iraq - including the recently ratifed military- and strategic-cooperation agreements with the United States and Iraq - we still can't take our eye off the ball no matter how quickly Mr. Obama wants to end it all. The Brookings Institute's Kenneth Pollack warned: "This war is not won.... it could all come apart at the seams."
Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Mr. Obama smartly decided to keep on the job, told Bloomberg that he is "less concerned" about Mr. Obama's schedule and: "We basically have our foot on the neck of al-Qaeda in Iraq." Here's to hoping the president-elect will listen to his "commanders on the ground," in this regard.
Adding to the brevity of circumstances, Mr. Obama's revised position comes on the heels of last week's WMD Commission Report that found "it is more likely than not" that a WMD will be used in a terrorist attack by 2013. (Those pesky things Mr. Obama said didn't exist in Iraq.)
Oh, and in case one had doubts, it seems Saddam Hussein really was a pretty bad guy after all - even in the eyes of the Hollywood left. HBO's newly unveiled four part mini-series "House of Saddam," makes it official. The self-described "gangster story" may have the makings of a mob-style Sopranos scenario, as some have critiqued, but it is clear in pointing out just how evil the notorious "Butcher of Baghdad" really was. Mistakes or not, for his timely demise we can all be grateful. On Fox, Ms. Rice reflected: "I still believe that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is going to turn out to be a great strategic achievement." It is safe to say the Iraqi people already feel that way.
In responding to the Commission's findings, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said: "We've done a lot," [since 9/11] and added: "We've built a really strong foundation for the next team."
As the war has expanded beyond Iraq and Mumbai has showed us the threats are not imagined, what a President Obama will do once he is officially in the driver's seat will be telling. What he ends will only be the beginning.
Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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