Paul Greenberg / March 10, 2009

George W. Obama

Consider it another campaign promise broken – thank goodness.

The new president was supposed to end the war in Iraq as soon as he was sworn in. Regardless of the consequences – for the Iraqis, for American security, and for the stability of the Middle East. So what does he do? He says it’ll take a year and a half to pull out most of the American troops there.

That’s right: not all. Just most. What a betrayal! Where is the defeat he promised!

The president and, yes, commander-in-chief says the war in Iraq won’t officially end until August 31, 2010. Goodness. Who knew that even a president of the United States could unilaterally end a war? Doesn’t war tend to be a bilateral activity? The enemy might have something to say in this matter.

But never mind. The Americans are definitely on their way out. (Even if many may be going only to Afghanistan.) It seems a reasonable enough goal – now that the Surge has done its job. It’s just possible that this president might finally find some use for that MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner his predecessor displayed all too prematurely.

But the current occupant of the White House says this country will still need to keep up to 50,000 GIs and Marines on call in Iraq – even after 2010.

The reaction from the leftier side of American politics to the president’s announcement was as restrained and calm as ever: What? It’s going to take 18 months to do this, and you’re still leaving 50,000 of our boys and girls in Iraq!

It seems the commander-in-chief wants to leave a large contingent of American troops in Iraq. It’s called a Residual Force in military lingo. Its purpose: to train and advise the Iraqi military. So we won’t have to go back in and do the bloody job all over again. The idea makes sense. Which means the types are mightily offended.

So are Democratic leaders in Congress, who have never seemed happy with anything less than an American rout in Iraq.

Harry Reid, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, says that keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq was more than he’d expected the White House to recommend.

Generals Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Patty Murray and Russ Feingold chimed in to express deep concern from their respective armchairs. (Who knew the joint chiefs of staff these days consisted of U.S. senators?)

Leslie Cagan, who is identified as a spokeswoman for United for Justice and Peace, says the good news is that there’s a plan to leave Iraq – as if the Surge hadn’t been just such a plan and a successful one at that.

But the bad news is … well, let her tell it: “The bad news, from our perspective, is it’s going to take that long. We think the timeline could be a lot shorter. We’re also troubled by the plan to leave literally tens of thousands of troops in Iraq.”

Ms. Cagan was joined in her strategic overview by Paul Kawika Martin, the director of Peace Action, who called President Obama’s announcement “one small step forward from the Bush administration.” That’s apparently Mr. Martin’s way of referring to the continuity of American foreign policy.

One of the more assuring aspects of President Obama’s plan for Iraq is that it has the strong support of John McCain, that old warrior and Barack Obama’s rival during the presidential campaign. Sen. McCain supported the Surge even before there was one. If he says the president’s is “a reasonable plan,” and he does, then it just might be.

President Obama seems to have been listening to the right military advisers, such as Gen. David Petraeus, originator and executor of the Surge that turned everything around in Iraq last year. Even though, as Sen. Obama, he declined to support the general when the Surge was first proposed.

Once again Barack Obama has proven a quick study. Also, there’s nothing like being catapulted into the Oval Office to instill a sense of responsibility. Fast.

Some of us can remember when the Surge was being debated in Congress, our current secretary of state was still senator from New York, and she was saying it would take “a willing suspension of disbelief” for her to believe Gen. Petraeus. Did she ever apologize for that cheap shot? It’s still not too late, Madam Secretary, to say you’re sorry. It never is. Not that the general needs your apology, for his judgment and leadership were vindicated in Iraq some time ago, but an apology would inspire confidence – in you.

Naturally it would be too much to expect this president to have a good word for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who had the courage not just to persevere in Iraq but to insist on victory. And leave his successor with one less big headache. And yet, though he is a most articulate man, President Obama seems unable to pronounce the word V-I-C-T-O-R-Y. As if he might break his jaw if he dared say it. But he seems willing enough to accept the reality of it, which is a relief.


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