Soob

Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth


What Obama can Learn from Gates: A Snippet from the good Kap:

Obama can and should keep reminding voters about how he opposed the war from the beginning. But the less inclined he is to close the distance between what he will do next in Iraq and what Sen. John McCain will do next, the greater is the possibility that Iran will take advantage of the policy gap between the two candidates. McCain is publicly committed to staying the course that Gates and Petraeus have set the United States military on in Iraq. Obama is committed to getting all the troops out by 2010 no matter what. A precipitous withdrawal may be the last chance the Iranians will have to dominate Iraq to the degree that they had thought possible in 2006. If Obama heads into the fall campaign without visiting Iraq, without acknowledging progress there, and without altering his time-table for withdrawal, the Iranians may decide to help his electoral chances by initiating a new spate of bombings.

In other words, the closer we get to the election, the more consequences Obama's public position may have for events on the ground in Iraq. And Obama's position can surely evolve in a direction that acknowledges the need to stay tough there, even as he continues to claim credit for having been against the project from the beginning. Rather than blur the distinction between him and McCain, he can subtly shift on Iraq in a way that demonstrates just how serious a thinker he is on foreign policy.
Some skepticism: Yes, but politically speaking, should Obama essentially reverse course on pulling out of Iraq by 2010 he throws his chance at re-election into a rather dicey gamble. If Iraq turns around by 2012, his hypocrisy will dissipate into heroism. However, if Iraq is still a mess by 2012 his chance at re-election are a bit hindered to say the least. First he'd have pissed off his "out if Iraq.Now!" base and second he'd also be the second President to expend blood and treasure for, on the grand scheme of public understanding, little or nothing.

Some optimism: As Kaplan points out, using Gates and Petraeus as examples, the rhetoric one speaks and the ideals one holds regarding a certain policy are subject to change once one becomes a "decider" in said policy. Should Obama attain the Presidency he will have shifted from an outsider looking in to an insider looking out. The reality of the situation (as opposed to the politically convenient myth) could have a profound effect on his handling of the affairs.

An aside: Events in Afghanistan will have a measured impact on our policy in Iraq, without regard to who is elected President. Afghanistan will very likely soon prove a bellwether for our policy in Iraq.

10 comments:

AI said...

I can see Obama watering down his 2010 vision of pull out as we get closer to November, but for political reasons it will only be slight. If he can pull this off with credibility it will vastly improve his FP credentials which, at least on the surface, appear to be lacking now. Afghanistan however, is looking increasing ominous.

subadei said...

Otto, good to see you back in the game. I agree if he can pull it off. For once I'm at a loss to opine beyond analyzing the two possibilities of success and failure. I think we'll know more as the campaign winds on and both candidates come to be further held and indentified by their positions.

As for Afghanistan, sadly ominous seems to be the case.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Although many, including bloggers and the MSM, are trumpeting the fact that McCain "correctly" foresaw the need for a surge some time ago (as nearly everyone saw right around the time of the lootings....), Obama's mantra has been that the Iraq war served as a distraction from the real war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

So whatever happens in Iraq, a worsening situation in Afghanistan proves Obama was always right in what he foresaw.

The difference between the McCain omniscience and the Obama omniscience (and omniscience is the key attribute used by those for their preferred candidates) is striking. McCain's foresight may well help turn the tide in Iraq, or not (could be a temporary lull), but do nothing for the war in Afghanistan, whereas Obama's implied goal and foresight may be extremely crucial for "fixing" the situation in Afghanistan.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Apparently, Obama's on the ball:

"Obama Seeks out the Wise Old Men (and Women) of Foreign Policy"

"While not taking on Obama directly, Hamilton in a recent interview said "you cannot lock yourself into something in a fluid situation" when asked about setting a precise timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"Obama has indicated some flexibility on both issues in recent weeks, saying he would meet with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only to advance U.S. interests, and he would consider revising his plan to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in this first two years in office if the situation there suggested a different approach."

subadei said...

"Obama has indicated some flexibility on both issues in recent weeks, saying he would meet with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only to advance U.S. interests, and he would consider revising his plan to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in this first two years in office if the situation there suggested a different approach."

If that's a case of Obama's fluid policy then great. Until November, however (January, really) the ability to discern platitudes from real policy remains hazy. Especially in light of this flying directly in the face of one of his most poignant political stances, that being out of Iraq ASAP. The above might be pandering or it might be Obama transforming his agenda from that of superficial to that of reality. I hope that's the case (even though I will cast my ballot in favor of McCain.)

"McCain's foresight may well help turn the tide in Iraq, or not (could be a temporary lull), but do nothing for the war in Afghanistan, whereas Obama's implied goal and foresight may be extremely crucial for "fixing" the situation in Afghanistan."

Why the assumption that more American soldiers in Afghanistan (even every last soldier now in Iraq) would somehow turn the tide? Ineffective strategy and ineffective strategy+more soldiers is essentially equitable given the outcome, isn't it? Paulus might agree, so too might the Soviets, who last visited Afghanistan.

I agree that quitting Iraq leaves more resources for Afghanistan (and this is beneficial for the Afghan theater as it will ease general fatigue, improve morale, etc) but until (IMO) the strategic focus shifts to the base of our opposition more soldiers simply means just that. More soldiers.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Soob,

A mere surge in troop levels in Afghanistan is not the Obama plan as I understand it. Recall this, which opponents derided at the time:

"Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States must be willing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, adopting a tough tone after a chief rival accused him of naivete in foreign policy.

Obama's stance comes amid debate in Washington over what to do about a resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban in areas of northwest Pakistan that President Pervez Musharraf has been unable to control, and concerns that new recruits are being trained there for a September 11-style attack against the United States.

Obama said if elected in November 2008 he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government, a move that would likely cause anxiety in the already troubled region.

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said."


And now it looks like Petraeus is thinking similarly.

Pressuring or cajoling Pakistan in such a way, indeed a stepping around Pakistan if necessary, would represent a huge break from the policy of the GWB administration toward Pakistan (although GWB has backtracked on that slightly, judging by a few instances of cross-border activity that have occurred.)

I think Obama has had a much better understanding of what is required in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater than McCain, who towed the GWB line:

Sen. John McCain intensified his attacks on Sen. Barack Obama, saying he was "naïve" for publicly suggesting several months ago he would attack targets in Pakistan.

"The best idea is not broadcast what you are going to do. That's naïve," McCain said at a news conference in Columbus.

"You make plans and you work with the other country that is your ally and friend, which Pakistan is," McCain added. "You don't broadcast and say you are going bomb the country without their permission or without consulting them. This is the fundamentals of the conduct of national security policy. I believe in working with the other country."

The Bush administration, however, did not follow that strategy last month, when on Jan. 29 a CIA Predator aircraft flew over the Pakistani town of Mir Ali and fired Hellfire missiles that killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander.


It is very odd that McCain wouldn't broadcast the fact that every option is on the table vis-a-vis al-Qaeda in Pakistan...but thinks broadcasting said option with respect to Iran is a beautiful strategy. McCain doesn't understand the Afghanistan/Pakistan problem.

Dan tdaxp said...

I'm confused by Curtis' comment. He tries to make a distinction without a difference.

Broadcasting refers to transmitting a message in such a way that it is received by all capable of receiving it. Narrowcasting, similarly, refers to transmitting a message in such a way that only select receivers acquire it.

Thus, Curtis' statement:


It is very odd that McCain wouldn't broadcast the fact that every option is on the table vis-a-vis al-Qaeda in Pakistan...but thinks broadcasting said option with respect to Iran is a beautiful strategy. McCain doesn't understand the Afghanistan/Pakistan problem.


Crticizes McCain for accusing Obama of broadcasting something... and then argues that such a plan should be narrowcasted!

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

and then argues that such a plan should be narrowcasted!

Could you explain, Dan, since I don't see whatever you are seeing/dreaming? Where have I argued for "narrow casting?"

Incidentally, have you ever considered that creating new frameworks via the introduction of highly abstract mental permutations might often disrupt the message you wish to deliver? There is a passage in Montaigne's essays where he flatly states that the creation of vagueness and obscurity may be used to swindle others; this is a charge often leveled at Obama; but the ultra-abstraction you use may be a similar kind of nothingness. I'm waiting for your clarification however.

Dan tdaxp said...

Curtis,

Ah, I misinterpreted your paragraph.

It is very odd that McCain wouldn't broadcast the fact that every option is on the table vis-a-vis al-Qaeda in Pakistan...but thinks broadcasting said option with respect to Iran is a beautiful strategy. McCain doesn't understand the Afghanistan/Pakistan problem.

Reading more carefully, as I undertand your position, you support Obama's broadcasting wrt Pakistan, but oppose McCain's broadcasting wrt Iran

subadei said...

Thanks for the additional info, Curtis. I don't agree however that John McCain doesn't understand the Afghan/Paki conundrum. On the contrary I suspect he isn't willing to take the gamble I laid out above. One of risking further destabilization of Pakistan by sending US efforts across the border. Assuming Obama does understand the delicacy of this option, he seems to be willing to take the gamble. Of course both their positions as you cited them (indeed, so far as I know, the media has thus cited them) are within the era of Musharraf. It'll be interesting to see how or if they readdress Pakistan in light of current events.