Foreign Policy Amateur Hour
By Dan McLaughlin Posted in 2008 | Obamafiles — Comments (15) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
You might have missed the news, in between media reports on Barack Obama's wonderful fabulousness and media reports on Senator Obama's fabulous wonderfulness, but on Tuesday, Illinois' junior senator released his "responsible yet effective" plan for
victory in withdrawal from Iraq. (I love the "yet" and its implication that we should be surprised that a responsible plan could be effective, or an effective plan responsible). We know the plan is a responsible one because the press release says so 8 times, and Senator Obama is a responsible man.
I'll pass over the separation of powers problems in passing binding legislation; Obama is running for president, so this plan is best evaluated as what he would do in the big chair. How does the plan stack up?
The key element:
De-escalates the War with Phased Redeployment: Commences a phased redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq not later than May 1, 2007, with the goal that all combat brigades redeploy from Iraq by March 31, 2008, a date consistent with the expectation of the Iraq Study Group. This redeployment will be both substantial and gradual, and will be planned and implemented by military commanders. Makes clear that Congress believes troops should be redeployed to the United States; to Afghanistan; and to other points in the region. A residual U.S. presence may remain in Iraq for force protection, training of Iraqi security forces, and pursuit of international terrorists.
"Redeploy," of course, has no meaning here other than withdrawal. The only ways to withdraw the troops without redeploying them would be to discharge them from the military or kill them. So let's call this what Obama fears to say it is: withdrawal. Still, the "to the United States; to Afghanistan; and to other points in the region" language at least recognizes that he's not talking about Okinawa.
Then there's the word "De-escalates" - which implies that the current U.S. policy constitutes an escalation. Not only does this improperly blame the U.S. rather than the parties conducting the violence, it's inconsistent with Obama's assertion elsewhere in the press release that the current conflict constitutes "somebody else's civil war." Which is it - are we escalating the war, or is it somebody else's fight we're trying to stop?
Note also the effort to hide behind the ISG for withdrawal dates that look deliberately aimed at the expectation of Democratic primary voters.
Much of the rest of the plan rehashes the same things everyone wants (training, progress on security, economic and political issues) but congeals them into demands to be enforced by Congressional oversight. Then we get to the capper:
Regional Diplomacy: Launches a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative - that includes key nations in the region - to help achieve a political settlement among the Iraqi people, end the civil war in Iraq, and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and regional conflict. Recommends the President should appoint a Special Envoy for Iraq to carry out this diplomacy within 60 days. Mandates that the President submit a plan to prevent the war in Iraq from becoming a wider regional conflict.
Here is where Obama's Kerryite streak really comes out: "key nations in the region" obviously refers to Iran and Syria, at a minimum, so already we're talking about negotiating with these countries without openly admitting what they are doing that requires us to negotiate with them. Obama says that these foreign nations should be asked "to help achieve a political settlement among the Iraqi people," so right there he's admitting that foreign powers are going to be handed influence in domestic Iraqi affairs, the sort of cold-blooded realpolitik that Obama's Kenyan ancestors were so frequently on the receiving end of and that any true liberal ought to find appalling. Now, diplomacy can work sometimes (and is preferable when it has a chance to do so) - if you have as much leverage as the other guy. Negotiations, after all, are war by other means. But what does Obama set as the conditions on negotiating? First, impose an arbitrary 60-day deadline (with unspecified consequences). Our adversaries, being subject to no such pressure and facing no consequences for delay, can be expected to do precisely that. Second, impose a mandate to avoid "a wider regional conflict," presumably meaning war with Iran. In other words, take the threat of force against the people we are negotiating with off the table.
The best that can be said of this plan is that it is probably not meant to be taken literally, and that Senator Obama can be forgiven, as a foreign policy neophyte, for issuing such a hash. But that's not much comfort to people who expect him to jog across the Potomac into the White House.