- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East has revealed an interesting convergence of his views with those of the Bush administration.

While President Bush would like the American people to believe that “time horizons” (the president’s term) and “timetables” (Mr. Obama and other Democrats’ term) are two different scenarios, they are not. White House press secretary Dana Perino had a difficult time explaining the difference last week. After rightly praising the surge in Iraq on Monday, she said, “It is precisely because we are succeeding in Iraq that we are able to have these conversations today to set aspirational goals for time horizons.” She said the strategy would change from direct involvement to oversight and, “From there we’ll be able to bring more troops home.”

The ability of Iraq to manage its own security was a key benchmark for troop draw-downs and now, with that success, there is a reluctance to set a “timetable” for withdrawal - supporters of the war and John McCain’s candidacy can’t have Mr. Obama being right about anything war-related.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Bush’s views on Iraq have converged. Both initially opposed any discussion of a surge strategy. Mr. Obama opposed the Iraq war and subsequently opposed the surge. Mr. Bush - who was advised by his commanders on the ground, which is something he and Mr. McCain are now criticizing Mr. Obama for not doing - also opposed the surge. Indeed, Mr. Bush said we didn’t want a surge in a speech he gave at Fort Bragg, N.C., on June 28, 2005. The president said: “Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don’t you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.” But did they?

In February 2006, the Askariya shrine in Samarra was destroyed by Sunni insurgents, and the Shi’ites responded with violent assaults against the Sunnis, leading to a civil war-like atmosphere and strengthening al Qaeda. Still, there was no surge forthcoming - until January 2007, two years after the American people asked the president to send more troops. The president went on to say that sending more troops would undermine the strategy to encourage Iraqis to take the lead in fighting and send a message that America planned to “stay forever.”

Mr. Obama isn’t immune to this sort of having it both ways with his war rhetoric. His opposition to the surge was clearly flawed. The surge has been successful in improving Iraqi security and the U.S. military’s ability to train Iraqi police and troops, allowing them to lead the fight instead of following American troops. It has been so successful, in fact, that Mr. Obama now wants a “similar” surge in Afghanistan. The more Mr. Obama changes his positions, the more he stays the same.

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