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June 30, 2008

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Packer’s policy simply shifts the inevitable, politically painful decision to someone else, while allowing him to escape blame for the consequences.

Exactly. The correct question to ask is how the position's falsifiable. We'll leave Iraq eventually, but it won't be tomorrow. Packer's position is simply setting himself up to say, if things go bad, that we left too early, or that if things go well, the drawdown was paced properly.

The only way it doesn't work is if we leave immediately and things magically get better, and anyone with two brain cells to knock together knows that neither of those two things is going to happen. I like Assassin's Gate too, but this is just silly punditry.

Oh, and as to this point:

To be honest, I’ve been less than impressed with Obama in the general. Some movement to the center is to be expected – that’s American politics in the shadow of the Electoral College. But what’s troubling is how defensive he seems on the foreign policy front (Clark, AIPAC Iran pandering, etc.).

I have to agree, to some extent, but the more that I think about this, I don't see how any of these moves really hurts Obama or helps McCain.

Clark got the quote out there right before Obama gave his big speech on patriotism, which (a) probably wasn't a coincidence (b) got the point out there while disassociating Obama from it (c) put McCain in a tough position -- Obama praised McCain's patriotism while arguing that using the issue as political currency was a cheap shot, so McCain got stuck between taking a hardline against Clark and looking like a hypocrite, or letting it slide and looking weak.

At least, that's been my read based on watching the news tonight. I've seen tons of extended clips from Obama's speech, brief clips of McCain's half-assed and fairly lame response, and quotes of Clark. Obama played this one pretty well.

As much as I personally disagree with Obama's positions on FISA, the AIPAC speech, etc., aside from pissing off the netroots (which could well be a bad move, but it's pretty early to say one way or the other) the downside has seemed pretty small compared to the upside, particularly when I consider what could have happened if he'd pursued the alternatives.

Darn fine post. Strong, clear, uncompromising, and right.
As usual I like Adam’s reading. I suppose most of us are nourishing the hope that not only is his heart as are his brains brains in the right place, but also his campaign with its superior skills on many fronts knows just what it’s doing.
Especially with the tightly-run close-lipped style, my supreme hope is that he’s got his ducks lined right up, and when he starts going to town after the convention we’ll find he knew exactly what he was doing.
It does take a big pile of faith at the moment, and I can see how some would think that isn’t hope but bull.
I’m working on it.

Well done Publius. You're on fire lately.

Very concise take down of the Bush/McCain/Republican position with regard to Iraq policy.

But you only touch briefly on the bigger concern for anyone who cares about saner foreign (and domestic) policies : the pretty amazing pivot Obama the nominee seems to have made politically -- not to mention the campaign's willingness to throw political allies and fellow travelers under the bus at the drop of a hat.

I would love to read Billmon's take on it.

It seems to me that there are two issues that are somewhat muddled in this post:

1) How should Obama frame his foreign policy views in the general election campaign?

2) How much change in American foreign policy should progressives expect from Obama?

I am much more optimistic in regards to the first question than the second.

Obama has proven to be a masterful campaigner. I expect his turn to the center to be carefully calibrated. I agree entirely with publius that the clear contrast with McCain on Iraq is one of Obama's biggest advantages. I think Obama realizes this. I doubt very much that he will follow Packer's idiotic suggestion to muddy the waters.

On the other hand, I think it much more likely that, behind closed doors, the Obama camp thinks like Packer. For over thirty years, the dovish wing of the Democratic Party has been marginalized. This year, it was, yet again, represented by two marginal candidates, Kucinich and Gravel. These were the campaigns for fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. Among the other Democratic candidates, the disagreements never went beyond an argument over how far one ought to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

So in short: I suspect that publius will get the campaign he wants from Obama, but Packer will get his policy of choice come January.

Iraq is either:
1) A mess to be cleaned up; or
2) A battle to be won.

I have no doubt that Barack Obama sees it the first way, John McCain the second. I'm pretty sure the country sees it Obama's way. Packer knows this, and wants to define what cleaning up the mess means.

Obama just might be dumb enough to listen to people like Packer, either in the campaign or in the White House. But at least he's not dumb enough to see Iraq as a battle to be won. McCain, not so much.

-- TP

Re: Obama's pursuit of the center - I think he's playing the Clinton strategy. He's got to win critical states and to do that, he needs more than what's usual to overcome the race issue. The more centrist he is, the more fence-sitters he'll pull in (or at least, eliminate a convenient reason for not voting for him). But yeah, couldn't hurt for him to start expounding on some foreign policy issues.

I think you're all wrong.

Even at $140/bbl people don't seem to catch on.

Peak oil is here folks.

There is no way in hell the Republicans OR the Democrats are going to lose our unfettered access to the massive oil reserves in the region.

That is why we aren't leaving Iraq for next few decades.

And it's why the coming attacks on Iran will not be stopped.

Death and destruction on a massive scale.

But hey, at least we can still live in the suburbs...

Who the hell is George Packer and who the hell cares what he thinks?

You need to distinguish "the surge" (a tactical troop increase) from Petraeus' "counterinsurgency strategy", which holds that in a counterinsurgency, the most important thing is to protect the people from the insurgents. It is hard to fathom, but it took 4 years for the administration to understand that their first responsibility in occupying Iraq was making the population secure, otherwise they risked going over (or being taken over) to the Dark Side. Prior to that, the strategy was "protect the troops and assume all Iraqis are hostile until proven otherwise".

You need to distinguish "the surge" (a tactical troop increase) from Petraeus' "counterinsurgency strategy", which holds that in a counterinsurgency, the most important thing is to protect the people from the insurgents. It is hard to fathom, but it took 4 years for the administration to understand that their first responsibility in occupying Iraq was making the population secure, otherwise they risked going over (or being taken over) to the Dark Side. Prior to that, the strategy was "protect the troops and assume all Iraqis are hostile until proven otherwise".

Elihu,

You raise a good point, but it may not be possible to protect the population with extremely large numbers of troops. In that sense, the tactical surge cannot be separated from the larger strategic concerns of protecting Iraqi civilians.

Four days ago, forty or so Special Forces troops choppered in to Janaba, where they took away one of the bodyguards of Maliki's sister and shot him.

Janaba is in Karbala province, supposedly handed off to Iraqi control last October. The governor openly says this is the U.S. sending a message to Maliki, the kind the mob sends to a business owner who's being recalcitrant about agreeing to a "partnership".

There's your conditional engagement, pal.

(By the way, what facts actually would support withdrawal? Are there any?)

Yes, e.g., "Iraq has run out of oil".

Obama is a political hack who has never made a decision of consequence in his lifetime. He couldn’t even handle images of his own congregation hooting and hollering.

The idea that he has the strength to order American troops off of the streets, and deal with the imagery of a Muslim country coming to equilibrium, is not rational.

There would be blood on the hands of the American President who orders the troops out. Those kinds of decisions are not made in a ‘consequence-free, nurturing environment’. They are made in the world.

I hope that Obama is not getting a case of Clintonitis. the theory that Deomcrats can get elected by "moving tothe center" should have been discredited by the resultos of the 04 and 06 elections. Deomcrats get elected by being clearly different from and better than Republicans.

There are a few issues of local importance where this rule does not apply: some Deoms are big gun freaks for local resoans, for example, and some are so-clled pro-life. Howevver when in comes to an issue like FISA Demo crats are better off if gthey stgrongley oppose the Republicans than if they waffle.

There are two reasons for this. First most Americans don't know anything about FISA so they aren't going to change their vote over it. Seconsly the Republicans are going to call Democrats weak on defense no matter what so it serves no purpose to try to stave off such an attack by conceding to them. in fact the very act of conceding makes the Democrats look weak and helps the Republicans push that message.

So in terms of smart politics moving to the center a la Clinton is the one way Obama has to lose this election.

he needs to stick to opposing and reframing, not conceding or mving to the middle.

Besides the middle isn't where the FISA vote is. The middle on the war on terrorism is to get the hell out of Iraq and stop all this nonsense about fighting endless war and start rebuilding this coungtry.

One last point: I don't mind Obama's response to Clark. It's probably orchestrated. Clark is being an attack dog surrogate. he says the controversial stuff that obama can't say. Obama distances himself and Clark goes on putting his statements outr there over and over until they stick. they probably planned the whole thing, Clarlk's statements, and Obama's responses. Clark is still at it, BTW

In any event, it’s not at all obvious that our occupation is making things better over the long term.

Agreed.

I do think it's likely things will get quite bloody if we withdraw.

The reason I'm in favor of withdrawal is because in the long run, it will be bloody even if we stay longer and keep the violence down while there.

>There’s no need to keep wasting American and Iraqi life to vindicate George Packer.

Nor the other George, I might add.

I think it takes a remarkable lack of self-awareness for Packer to go from saying: "These developments may be temporary or cyclical; predicting the future in Iraq has been a losing game." To, three sentences later: " He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse."

Elihu Vedder wrote, You need to distinguish "the surge" (a tactical troop increase) from Petraeus' "counterinsurgency strategy", which holds that in a counterinsurgency, the most important thing is to protect the people from the insurgents.

Problem with that (as stated), just like in Vietnam, is that it completely ignores the political dimension.

I do agree that with enough troops, we can keep violence down to a minimum. That's not the problem. The problem is that the historical record indicates that nation-building in general is very likely to fail, and given the actual facts in this situation, almost certainly going to fail in this case.

Thus, a simple utilitarian argument shows that we might as well leave now rather than later. Unless you're planning on occupying Iraq forever.

publius, I agree with your general thinking. But I'd also note that your question---is there any set of facts that war supporters would see as supporting withdrawal---could be turned around to war opponents---is there any set of facts that would support a continued large-scale military involvement?

I'd answer that question "no," simply because I'm appalled by how much was spent and continues to be spent on Iraq.

But the point is that I think both sides are pretty unmovable in their goals. War supporters want to leave large numbers of American soldiers there no matter what is happening, and war opponents want to bring large numbers of American soldiers home no matter what is happening.

war opponents want to bring large numbers of American soldiers home no matter what is happening.

No. In that formulation, both sides would be "satisfied" by having 80,000 troops come home and 60,000 stay (which is where I predict we'll be at this time four years from now).

What opponents of the occupation want is for the occcupation to end: All troops and contractors home, except for a normal contingent of Marines at a normal-sized, normal-functioning embassy.

You may want to actually read the report on conditional engagement before accusing it of being Bush-lite. It's not.

http://www.cnas.org/en/cms/?2311

It provides a framework for leveraging a withdrawal--yes, a withdrawal--to maximize pressure on the Iraqis to reach the accommodation you seem to think is required to stabilize the country.

There would be blood on the hands of the American President who orders the troops out. Those kinds of decisions are not made in a ‘consequence-free, nurturing environment’. They are made in the world.

There is and will be blood on the hands of the presidents who keep the troops in Iraq. And some of it will be American blood, which many Americans find...bloodier. As for Obama not wanting to see negative images on the television screens, do you think there's going to be even two minutes a day of network reporting from Iraq once it's just brown people killing each other?

"Who the hell is George Packer"

If you have to ask that question, you are fairly uninformed about Iraq, how we got into it, and journalism in America.

"and who the hell cares what he thinks?"

Certainly hundreds of thousands of people have cared more about what he thinks than what Some Guy On The Internets thinks. Write a good book, learn to answer your own questions, and use Google, and some day perhaps people will care more about your opinion.

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