- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barack Obama’s recent obfuscation on foreign affairs calls into question his ability to be an effective commander-in-chief. This is especially apparent regarding the war on terror. Mr. Obama’s policy suggestions on Iraq and Afghanistan are misguided.

According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 72 percent of Americans say that John McCain will be a good commander-in-chief; 48 percent of voters say that Barack Obama will be effective. Mr. McCain also has the advantage in this category among independents: 74 percent say he will be a good commander in chief; 44 percent of independents think Mr. Obama is skillful as the nation’s leader in international affairs.

Mr. Obama is increasingly vulnerable on a policy that was the centerpiece of his primary campaign: the Iraq war. In 2002, he opposed the war. During the Democratic primaries and caucuses, he touted his opposition as a mark of his superior judgment to lead. His anti-war tirades were especially effective in rallying the liberal base of his party to support him. He repeatedly contrasted his position with Hillary Clinton’s vote in October 2002 authorizing the war. In January 2007, Mr. Obama also opposed the Bush administration’s troop surge. He stated that the surge strategy would not “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there,” and that it would “not prove to be the one that changes the dynamics significantly.” Instead, the surge has proven to be successful in decreasing sectarian violence and stabilizing Iraq.

Voters have seen first-hand that Mr. Obama’s Iraq policy is a work in progress. He initially insisted that all troops be withdrawn by March 2008 - which would have meant leaving the mission incomplete and leaving Iraq in defeat. He now states that he will withdraw the troops within 16 months of becoming president (by summer 2010). After he became the presumptive Democratic nominee, he declared that he would “refine” his policy according to events on the ground - and in consonance with consultations with commanders in the field. He has also stated that he will leave a residual force behind. To further develop his policy, he will soon travel to Iraq.

How does Mr. Obama’s position now differ from that of Mr. McCain’s? Mr. McCain has also stated that he will withdraw the troops from Iraq, gradually and as dictated by events on the ground - a mission that he states is likely to be completed by 2013. However, Mr. McCain was a leading advocate of the surge strategy. Hence, American troop withdrawals are possible because of the surge. American troops will eventually leave Iraq in victory -rather than in defeat as Mr. Obama originally proposed.

Mr. Obama insists that he will redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Yet, just as he failed to grasp the impact of the surge, he fails to understand what is needed in Afghanistan. The fundamental problem there is not one of merely adding more troops: It is finding a way to use the troops effectively. The Arizona senator is rightly calling for a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan that is similar to the one in Iraq. Mr. McCain is also insisting on unity of command for the mismanaged NATO troops currently operating there. Once again, Mr. McCain sees clearly whereas Mr. Obama does not.

When the two candidates are compared on foreign affairs, voters must conclude that Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions are naive and uninformed. America’s next commander-in-chief must have clear and informed views regarding where America is headed in peace and in war.

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