I disagree with President Obama on a great many things. I justified my vote for Obama in the last election in part because I thought he would be unwilling - and perhaps unable - to deviate from a McCainesque strategy in Iraq. Indeed, I thought that Obama's and McCain's plans for Iraq would be functionally identical (July 21, 2008):
The real story is simpler but less evident. The real story is that viewpoints on Iraq are converging. Obama and McCain have different talking points and different emphases, but they are saying essentially the same thing -- and it's nearly the same as Maliki's most recent position [at the time, that US troops need to be out of the country in 2010, but could stay longer if needed].
At bottom, is "yes, but" really different from "but, yes"? Are these contrary positions, or variations on the same theme? Seems to me the latter. As Commentator Model 62 notes, "Everybody's finally on board with the ISG Report."
Surprise! There's an ominous detail in the 19-month Iraq withdrawal plan that the president is apparently signing off on this week. Withdrawal will barely happen at all this year, as US troops become a kind of last-resort guarantor of order until the December elections. Today, we get the now regular op-edfrom O'Hanlon and Pollack telling us that success is just around the corner but that we have "no choice" but to stay for the indefinite future. Plus: Obama will keep up to 50,000 troops in Iraq for ever anyway, so the empire will not end, as it never does.
He is ramping up the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan; he is not moving any serious forces out of Iraq for a year; Iraq's economy is crumbling again because it has no economy but oil; the Kurdish question is alive again; leading Iraqi politicians are suspected of plotting murder and mayhem, and someone is protecting them. Well: just look at what the Brits had to deal with in the 1920s and 1930s. But at least they got the Iraqis to shoulder some of the financial burdens. If the British analogy holds, the US will be in Iraq until 2016 at the earliest. Or until economic collapse makes withdrawal not a matter of choice.
I'm only slightly more sanguine than Sullivan regarding our chances in Iraq. I think that there's more progress in Iraq than Sullivan gives credit for, not the least of which is another successful election. On the other hand, I'm no longer measuring success by ... umm ... whether we are successful. Yes, one side effect of Rumsfeldian incompetence is circumlocution: one can now have success without success. Huzzah and all that. I'm not hoping to "win" in Iraq by leaving troops there longer. If we do, great. But I'll be happy if we just stave off catastrophic failure.
Yup, I'll take bad over worse -- particularly when bad is the best on offer.
(Source for title.)
UPDATE: Perhaps I'm wrong. But I'm willing to be, SOFA or not, there will be US troops in Iraq after 2011. Call them advisors, trainers, contracters, whatever .... they will be there.