The George W. Bush--Barack Obama Iraq Policy.
President Barack Obama based his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency on his credentials as the strongest opponent of the war in Iraq among the Democratic rivals for the nomination. He called for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country, regardless of conditions on the ground. Having won the Democratic nomination, during the general election campaign, he somewhat modulated this extreme position, describing a staged withdrawal over 16 months. Ironically, it was the success of the "surge" and the anti-insurgency campaign planned and implemented by General David Petraeus, which Senator John McCain favored and Senator Barack strongly opposed, that gave President Obama the ability to act in a manner that superficially resembles his campaign position.
The current timetable for withdrawal calls for an end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by August 31, 2010, with a troop reduction by that time from the current level of 142,000 troops to between 35,000 and 50,000 troops.
The differences between the policy of the George W. Bush Administration policy on U.S. military involvement in Iraq and the current policy of the Obama Administration are insubstantial. The Bush Administration always stated that troop levels in Iraq would respond to conditions on the ground. The sooner that U.S.-trained Iraqi troops could take over combat, policing and support missions, the more quickly U.S. troops could be drawn down. President Obama's current plan foresees keeping troop levels at their current high through Iraqi elections in 2011 and as many as 50,000 troops through 2011. At least some U.S. troops will in all likelihood remain in support and training missions even after 2011. Thus the Obama plan begins to look very much like the McCain forecast so ridiculed by the Democratic campaign machinery during the Presidential election.
Moreover, President Obama has begun to see real U.S. accomplishments in Iraq, where Candidate Obama saw none. In Iraq yesterday, President Obama praised his audience of U.S. soldiers, saying, "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." Gee, one tries to recall, how did it happen U.S. troops were in Irag to accomplish that extraordinary achievement? Oh, yes, they were ordered there by their then Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush, despite the strident opposition of, among others, Barack Obama.
As recounted on the Wall Street Journal online opinion page:
Prior to his Iraq visit, the President was asked by a Turkish student whether his Iraq policies were fairly close in substance to George W. Bush's. "Well, just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure we do things in a responsible fashion," Mr. Obama replied. We'll mark that down as a "yes."
So will we. Like the editorialist in the Wall Street Journal, we are pleased that President Obama has taken a more responsible line on the U.S. involvement in Iraq than did Candidate Obama. We just wish he would acknowledge the accomplishments of his predecessor in office, President George W. Bush, and the correctness on this issue of the views of his GOP Presidential election opponent, Senator John McCain.