Humility and Honesty About Iraq Can Inspire Trust
Later today, President Obama will speak to the American people about Iraq. No doubt he will laud the “end of major combat operations” by the date he randomly selected some 18 months ago. His press secretary Robert Gibbs also gave us a glimpse of what else he might say, telling the Today Show this morning that ”What is certainly not up for question is that President Obama, then-candidate Obama, said that adding those 20,000 troops into Iraq would, indeed, improve the security situation, and it did.”
Iraq in 2010 is indeed a very long way from Iraq in 2006, when violence and sectarian conflict threatened complete chaos. But then-candidate Obama did not support the course that brought us here as his press secretary now claims. On January 10, 2007, when President Bush announced the surge, Senator Obama insisted that the surge would actually increase sectarian violence: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” Barack Obama was clearly in opposition to the surge strategy.
Had we followed the course advocated by then-candidates Obama and Biden, the Iraq war would be remembered now as a crushing defeat for the United States and our allies. Al Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian supported extremists would have claimed victory over America – with grave implications for us throughout the region and the world. Iraq would have descended into full-scale civil war. Iraq’s neighbor would have likely been drawn into the conflict. Parts of Iraq would have been made a safe haven for terrorists to train and plan for attacks far beyond Iraqi borders.
Fortunately for all of us, these events did not occur. They did not occur because America changed strategy in Iraq. President Bush decided to increase our forces in Iraq and pursue a counterinsurgency strategy – a course long advocated by Republicans in Washington. This “surge” policy in 2007 was opposed by many – most notably and adamantly by Senators Obama and Biden. In October 2006, as the violence was spiraling out of control, Senator Obama actually advocated reducing our troop presence: “It is clear at this point that we cannot, through putting in more troops or maintaining the presence that we have, expect that somehow the situation is going to improve, and we have to do something significant to break the pattern that we’ve been in right now.”
In response to President Bush’s State of the Union address on January 23, 2007, Senator Obama said: “I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work…My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.”
Senator Joe Biden, just before the surge was formally announced, actually declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”
In May 2007, Senator Obama voted against funding our troops in Iraq. Reporters have insinuated that I haven’t been telling the truth on this fact, but consider the fact: he did not support additional troop funding. Had his position prevailed, our troops would have been forced to leave Iraq precipitously and chaos would have ensued. Goodness, even Senator Biden voted for the funding and had to admit this about Senator Obama and others who opposed it: “My colleagues voted against the funding to make a political point. There’s no political point worth my son’s life. There’s no political point worth anyone’s life.” As the mother of a soldier who spent his year in Iraq recently, I have to agree with Biden on that point.
As it became clear in the summer of 2007 that the surge strategy was working, Senator Obama was still stubbornly in denial about the success our American troops were having, saying: “My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now.” What willful blindness he showed with that assessment.
And even in November 2007, when everyone could see the success of the surge in reducing violence and increasing political space in Iraq, Senator Obama said: “Finally, in 2006-2007, we started to see that, even after an election, George Bush continued to want to pursue a course that didn’t withdraw troops from Iraq but actually doubled them and initiated a surge and at that stage I said very clearly, not only have we not seen improvements, but we’re actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.”
As Americans tune in to watch President Obama, it is important to remember the facts. He opposed the surge. He predicted it would fail. He said it would make things worse even after it dramatically improved the situation. He voted to cut off funds for our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines fighting in Iraq. For months he refused to accept that the surge he fought was actually a spectacular success. As President Obama usually likes to look backwards and declare the state of everything to be “George Bush’s fault,” my hope is that tonight he stays consistent and looks backwards, and in this case acknowledges that credit should be given where credit is due.
Along with the points that Bill Kristol made yesterday, I too have some suggestions for the president. President Obama, please show grace, humility and some honesty before the American people tonight. Please don’t declare “Mission Accomplished” and then saunter away with an assumption that your opposition to the Iraq strategy was key to our troops’ success. Please end the political posturing. Admit you were wrong about the surge. Recognize what our brave armed forces have achieved. Admit that the strategy long advocated by Republicans, proposed by President Bush, led by Generals Petraeus and Odierno, and executed by thousands of America’s finest – our brave men and women in uniform – brought violence under control and made responsible withdrawals possible. The more honest you are about the past, the more likely it is you will gain the support of the American people for your Iraq policy in the future. We need to be able to trust the White House war strategy, as our children’s future depends on it. Being honest with us tonight is a good starting point in building trust.
- Sarah Palin