He’s not the messiah, just a very lucky boy

All sorts of good things have been happening in Iraq.

Just the other day, the Sunni bloc formally ended its twelve month boycott of the Maliki government and has been given 6 ministeries including the Deputy Prime Minister post. In other news, coalitions of tribes in both Anbar and Najaf have taken the decision to participate in the upcoming elections on platforms independent of the existing religious parties. These events are just two of many events indicating a realignment of forces which has been occurring over a much longer time period. Central to this has been the decision of the Sunni population to choose the rational option of working with (and seeking the protection of) the US. At the same time, the Maliki government has shown that it is prepared to stand up to the lawlessness of the Sadrist militias. Across the entire country, the Iraqi Security Forces are showing increasing capacity to maintain internal discipline, subordinate sectarian and personal interests, and operate as an arm of the State. Overall, sectarian violence has been reduced by about 80%.

So much for the idea that the situation in Iraq was one of hopeless civil war.

Confronted with the dramatic improvement in Iraq since the Surge began, Obama still maintains that he was correct to vote against it. He now says that the Surge was never necessary because the Iraqis were already on the way to reconciliation before it began! This contradicts the entire basis of his campaign against the war.

Everybody surely knows that Obama’s expressed reason for voting against the Surge was that he believed that the war was hopeless. He’s on the record all over the place as taking the position that Iraq had descended into a severe civil war and that the only chance of improving the situation was to put pressure on the Iraqis to “stand up”and “take responsibility” by withdrawing American support. According to Obama , the Surge was bound to worsen the situation.

Now that there is undeniable evidence that the situation in Iraq has got dramatically better since the Surge, he’s engaging in quite extraordinary wriggle behaviour. Current reality is so much at odds with his previous predictions that even with a foreign policy staff of 300 ( 20 teams, each one spoon feeding him information on different regions), the best he has been able to come up with is the triumphant assertion that because the Sunni Awakening came into existence before the Surge, an increase in US troops was not required. Obama now says:

“political factors inside Iraq that came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, my assessment would be correct. … The point I was making at the time was the political dynamic was the driving force in that sectarian violence.”

And in another interview he really put his foot in it by saying :

” [I] did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.”

In a desperate attempt to distract attention from this complete lack of prescience, the Obama campaign is now trying to maintain that it is McCain who was unaware of the reality in Iraq before the Surge. In a breathtaking leap of logic, the Obama team has resorted to poking fun at McCain for his remarks about the relationship between the Sunni Awakening in Anbar and the success of the Surge. This extraordinary article at the Huffington Post website is an example. In response to McCain having said that shortly after the tribal sheiks of Anbar began to stand up to Al Qaeda, the Surge had been able to come in to both support and empower them, Ilan Goldenberg hits back with something so irrational that I had to pinch myself and then read it again. (Yes, he really did say it – and what’s more the same extraordinary, gloriously illogical stuff is being said all over the place).

The “argument” is based on these words by John McCain:

“Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.”

But, says the Obama campaign, the Sunni sheiks in Anbar had launched the Awakening several months before the Surge!!!

Therefore (ha ha ha), McCain is a complete idiot!! He didn’t even know that the Awakening began before the Surge (roll on the ground laughing!!)

The reality of course is the exact opposite. Those who initiated the Surge knew of the emergence of Sunni resistance to both Al Qaeda and the insurgency and saw that the situation was not hopeless. It was the anti-war movement which failed either to see it or (in Obama’s words) “anticipate …. the convergence of the Surge …with a combination of internal factors inside Iraq”.

If the anti-war movement had had its way and prevented the Surge, the Awakening movement would have been left to struggle on its own against the enemies of democracy. It was clear well before the Surge, that those forces had already instituted a campaign of extreme and absolutely brutal terror against any Iraqi tribe which refused to co-operate. Without the Surge, we would have seen a long lasting campaign of the most horrible terror and bloodletting in the Sunni provinces. It would have gone on for years and worse, the Sunni population in those regions would not have been able to come to the realisation (as they now have) that their interests would be best served by joining the democratic process in Iraq. The sort of reconciliation which has now begun to occur could not have taken place in the absence of US preparedness to intervene on the side of the Awakening movement.

Interviewed on CBS news, Obama continued to maintain that the turnaround in Iraq did not constitute any clear evidence against his view that US policy should have been to “pressure” the Iraqis to sort themselves out. It’s all just “hypothetical” apparently.

Couric: And I really don’t mean to belabor this, Senator, because I’m really, I’m trying … to figure out your position. Do you think the level of security in Iraq …

Obama: Yes.

Couric … would exist today without the surge?

Obama: Katie, I have no idea what would have happened had we applied my approach, which was to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation. So this is all hypotheticals. What I can say is that there’s no doubt that our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq. I said that– not just today, not just yesterday, but I’ve said that– previously. What that doesn’t change is that we’ve got to have a different strategic approach if we’re going to make America as safe as possible.

I’m not sure what to make of the Obama phenomenen. The odds that he will be the next US President are very high and there’s something very depressing about the inanity of his views and the religiosity of his campaign.

Nevertheless he will inherit a situation in which we are about to see the transformative impact of a Shia based democracy in the Arab heartland. He (and/or his team of advisors) would be crazy not to recognise the pivotal importance of this in underming the conditions which had turned that region into a breeding ground for terrorism. He can talk all he likes of Iraq having been a “distraction” from the “real” war on terror in Afghanistan. Strategically, the only way to defeat terrorism is via geuine democratization. It does require nothing less than the overturning of the old order and the most bitter fight against the enemies of democracy.

When Mr Nice Guy is elected, I suspect that he will be able to finesse the situation in order keep US troops in Iraq until they are no longer needed. We can already see him preparing to do that, much to the chagrin of the most embittered and dedicated section of the anti-war movement. Given his current Messiah status, he may even be able to do that job more successfully than McCain. The fact that people love him so much that he can get away with failing clear thinking 101 is very disconcerting. But it will hold him in good stead when he finds himself having to face reality and (as I hope) do what must be done. Despite the apparent stupidity of his reasoning, I think that he’s an opportunist rather than a fool.

Meanwhile we should feel happy about Iraq. Whether people in the rest of the world understand it or not, a democratic Iraq is emerging. The significance of that event for the entire region will be enormous.

A Palestinian State will be the next big event and it’s now looking increasingly likely that this could be achieved before the end of GWBs term. (That however is a topic for a separate blog item.)

So if Obama can maintain his winning streak, he’ll be lucky enough to have seized the throne at a time when it may be relatively easy to appear to be fixing things up. He will benefit from “the convergence” of all these unanticipated things!

7 Responses to “He’s not the messiah, just a very lucky boy”


  1. 1 Matthew C Harrison

    Obama’s rhetoric about the Iraq war has been filled with internal contradictions for years now. I remember him speaking passionately about the need to eliminate the distraction of Iraq to focus on the real problem, Afghanistan. He illustrated this by referencing the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, of all things, apparently oblivious to the fact that the US immediately attacked Nazi Germany.But I think you’ve sussed out the essential ploy behind his current contortions: if conditions continue to improve and the Iraqi people are able to finally and permanently establish a secure, civil government, Obama can simply initiate his withdrawal plan and take credit for what he may. On the other hand, if the situation once again devolves into violence he will still have been “right,” can still initiate his withdrawal plan, and can lay the blame on Bush.

    It seems to me that Obama, in searching for a “liberal” alternative to Bush’s “conservative” foreign policy, has failed to understand either. In advocating a limited and ad hoc policy with regard to Al Qaeda, it’s clear that he sees no connection between the rise of radically militant Islamism and the failed totalitarianism of the states in which it occurs. In maintaining his rhetoric about the need to “talk to” (and what that means beyond conciliation I can’t see) such regimes he makes clear his commitment to maintaining stability. His policies amount to not so much a “change” as a reversion to pre-9/11 foreign policy establishment thinking.His willingness to oppose the Surge is evidence enough of this, in my view.

    The Surge wasn’t only about facilitating the Anbar Awakening. Maliki’s turn against al Sadr and the Shia militias is perhaps just as important, as without this newfound independence, the Awakening itself would not have served Sunni interests. Instead, Obama would have had the Coalition in the midst of a massive pull out, signalling to the militias on all sides as well as al Qaeda that victory was still within reach. Such a withdrawal could only have served as a pretence for negotiating with whatever militia was left standing when the dust settled – this was the intent of using withdrawal to encourage the Iraqis to provide for their own security. The result of such a policy would have been, in essence, a strategic microcosm of US policy toward the Iran-Iraq war played out within the ruins of Iraq itself.That Obama is an opportunist is unquestionable, but sadly his being a fool is not at all in contradiction to this. I can think of no other way to describe the embrace of policies which have so manifestly failed, than as foolish.

  2. 2 keza

    Thanks for your comment, Matthew.

    I have no idea how foolish Obama is on a personal level ( ie absent his huge team of advisers). I think that we probably would do best to regard him as a “phenomenen” rather than focus too closely on his personal capabilities.

    To anyone who has paid close attention to dvelopments in Iraq and the world in general, he certainly comes over as lightweight. That’s why I couldn’t help picking apart his simple-minded response to the dramatic improvement in Iraq. However, while writing that post I began to think carefully about whether it makes real political sense to dismiss him as stupid.

    That’s what everybody does with regard to GWB and it’s a poor explanation. Generally people who come within reach of the US Presidency aren’t actually idiots. There is a tendency to call people idiots when we can’t make sense of what they are doing. That’s why most people think Bush is an idiot.

    I think that Obama has been catapulted to the top because he is very good at playing to the crowd. In that sense he’s a complete opportunist, rather than a fool. The poverty of his views and the illogic of his response to the success of the Surge speaks as much to the idiocy of the crowd as anything else. That’s depressing, but in good part it’s because the Bush administration has made very little attempt to win mass support for the essential issue of the strategic need for democratic revolution. The nature and importance of the change in US policy has not been widely understood and has created an enormous upsurge of mass dicombobulation. And people like us have not been very successful in going out and helping people undertstand. The lack of a genuine, clear-headed Left which could make the case for the necessity to bring democracy, modernity and all the goodies which come with these things, is an enormous problem. We’ve allowed pseudo leftist ideas to dominate.

    The thing about Obama ( as you mentioned above) is that there’s a sense in which he can’t lose if he becomes President. The situation is now looking good enough for him to be able to get on with a staged withdrawal (perhaps somewhat slower than his 16 month deadline, but he will have quite an amount of wriggle room now that things are looking better). It’s very likely that he will also be able to take credit for continued improvement in the situation during the withdrawal of troops (and I think the odds are that things will keep improving).

    You write:

    “Obama would have had the Coalition in the midst of a massive pull out, signalling to the militias on all sides as well as al Qaeda that victory was still within reach.”

    Yes, if he had been able to stop the Surge that is what would have happened, but Obama knew that the Surge would happen anyway, his vote wasn’t going to swing it. He could take his stand and look good without it having any material effect. When you aren’t powerful enough to actually make policy decisions you can take any stand that you like. It’s very different if you are in a position of real responsibility, as Obama will be if he is elected.

    I’m not excusing him – his opportunism disgusts me. But I don’t think it indicates that he’s an idiot. It just shows that he was prepared to surf the wave of discontent about the war to his own advantage.

    As we know, for all their big words, the Democrats continued to fund the war anyway. They weren’t actually prepared to go all out to force a withdrawal. If Obama is elected I don’t think he would be stupid enough to follow a policy which would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He will have do what it takes to succeed while finessing it to make it look as though he has clevery fixed things. And it looks as if history will be on his side (which is why I say that he’s lucky).

    It’s still a worry that the next US Administration looks like being one which will pander far more to the conservative isolationist wing of the foreign policy establishment though. An Iraqi democracy and a Palestinian State will come into existence I think. And these will be wonderful things which I believe will have a continuing pro-democracy impact on the whole region. But it would be far better to have a US government which is prepared to push really hard to carry that process forward, rather than drag its feet and pander to both the conservative right and to the mass backlash against the idea of committing US blood and treasure to the “democracy project”.

    The whole Obama phenomenen irritates me intensely. It’s a clear indication that although modernity and democracy have had a huge impact on backward, narrow, religious styles of thinking, we in the developed world still have a long way to go before people in general are free-thinking and objective enough to really run things for themselves.

  3. 3 Steve Owens

    For people to convince others that the surge has “worked” they need to explain how it has worked not just that it corresponds to a decrease in the level of violence as the violence may have decreased for other reasons.If the high level of violence was due mainly to the activity of the Sunni resistance and also to the ethnic cleansing phenomenon then maybe we should look at what is happening in those areas.As to the resistance well they used to identify the US army as the main enemy. Now they identify the foreign Jihadists as the main enemy. This shift has meant that the US army is now targeting several thousand foreigners rather than tens of thousands of Iraqis. Seems that its a shift initiated by Iraqis rather than an outcome of US policy.As to the ethnic cleansing I read in the Economist magazine that the violence resulting from this has ended due to the cleansing being completed rather than as a result of the surge.I do think that US policy has some effect. When the US army started handing out weapons to Sunni’s it did bring rival Shia militias to their senses and lead to peace talks between the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army.On a different note does anyone get the International Olympic Committee Iraq could field teams under Saddam but cant now because of too much government interference? go figure.

  4. 4 Matthew C Harrison

    <p> Keza, I agree with most everything you say.</p><p>

    I think you are right to question my calling him “foolish” as being without evidence, as you correctly point out that, not holding any position of real responsibility with regard to Iraq, he has been able to pander according to his political needs. The implication you raise is that we have no real way of knowing what he (or anyone else) really thinks – and this is quite true. So we simply don’t know that he means what he says about withdrawing from Iraq, about Afghanistan being the central front in the fight against al Qaeda, and about the need to withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.</p><p>

    You interpret this as opportunism. That he is riding the wave of popular discontent over the war here in the US (a wave which I don’t believe exists, or rather has been grossly exaggerated) while, once forced by responsibility into implementing responsible policy, he will behave accordingly.

    The problem is, if we accept that his thinking is completely opaque to us, we have no basis upon which to expect behavior in office that to us is responsible. You put this in terms of stupidity, i.e. that he wouldn’t be “stupid” enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Presumably you mean defeat in Iraq, which I am coming to believe will in a short while no longer be possible.</p><p>

    But intelligent people can make foolish decisions. There are many intelligent people in the American foreign policy community who continue to believe that the Iraq war was a mistake and that the realpolitik philosophy that guided US policy prior to 9/11 is still the appropriate philosophy to follow today. I characterized this as foolish, and the only evidence we have is that Obama is, not to overstate the matter, continuing to support this approach. There has been no movement on his part, despite your expectations and the expectations of many, away from his timeline for withdrawal or away from the ideas that this policy emanates from. Consider the following comments, in response to his recent trip to Iraq:</p>

    Other Iraqi leaders were more directly critical. As Mr. Obama acknowledged, Sunni leaders in Anbar province told him that American troops are essential to maintaining the peace among Iraq’s rival sects and said they were worried about a rapid drawdown.
    Mr. Obama’s response is that, as president, he would have to weigh Iraq’s needs against those of Afghanistan and the U.S. economy. He says that because Iraq is “a distraction” from more important problems, U.S. resources devoted to it must be curtailed. Yet he also says his aim is to “succeed in leaving Iraq to a sovereign government that can take responsibility for its own future.””

    Washington Post Editorial
    <p>

    Last Superpower has argued that Bush’s Iraq policy represented a break from traditional foreign policy in which it emphasized democracy and modernization for the Middle East at the expense of stability. I understand the view of LS to be that the Bush administration has been essentially dragging both the US foreign policy establishment as well as Iraqi society itself kicking and screaming into the new paradigm. I take your comments here to suggest that Bush’s success with the latter will translate into success with the former.</p><p>

    But I think this is far from certain. Obama’s comments above, while being consistent with your interpretation of Obama’s rhetorically opposing while materially supporting the nascent Iraqi democracy, are not inconsistent with a realpolitik, Arabist approach of supporting a semi-stable client state. Notably, democracy is not a criteria he mentions in what sounds very much like an exit strategy. If internal violence were once again to rear its head in Iraq, which path can you imagine Obama taking?</p><p>

    But the real question is what American grand strategy will look like after Iraq. In that regard, there isn’t much to go on for either Obama or McCain. We know that Obama has said he would bomb Pakistan, an erstwhile ally and another nascent democracy (or at least, closer to it than it has been in a long time). In fact, his entire strategy for defeating al Qaeda is geographically limited to Southwest Asia, completely ignoring the seedbeds of the militant ideologies which drive it. To the best of my knowledge, he has never expanded the scope of his strategy beyond al Qaeda to militant Islam at all. This does not encourage the belief that the Bush administration has had any lasting effect on US foreign policy beyond Iraq.</p><p>

    (P.S: I’m not sure why the paragraph formatting got stripped from my last post, and thanks for adding it back in. As you may notice, in this attempt I’ve manually inserted HTML paragraph tags this time in an attempt to avoid that problem. FYI, I’m using Firefox 3.)</p>

  5. 5 Steve Owens

    Keza have you heard the rumours that the  Mahdi Army will lay its weapons down tomorrow. Now if that happens we could really be looking at a new Iraq. It would mean that all major segments were looking to the forthcoming elections as the way forward with those holding on to the gun just an irrelevant rump.(deadly rump but surely on the way out)By tomorrow I understand the announcement will come a Friday prayers on the eighth of August. Here’s hoping

  6. 6 Cyberman

    I think that Barrack  Obama is 47 years old.  Have you considered the racial connotations of referring to a black person as a “boy” ?

  7. 7 Steve Owens
  1. 1 Palin socks it to the prigs at STRANGE TIMES
  2. 2 Obama in Cairo (therapy for liberals) at STRANGE TIMES

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