The WaPo acknowledges what the NYT (and Barack Obama) refuses to:
THERE’S BEEN a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”
Iraq passed a turning point last fall when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in early 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence and quelled the incipient sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Now, another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country, dispersing both rival militias and the Iranian-trained “special groups” that have used them as cover to wage war against Americans. It is — of course — too early to celebrate; though now in disarray, the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr could still regroup, and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence before the U.S. and Iraqi elections this fall. Still, the rapidly improving conditions should allow U.S. commanders to make some welcome adjustments — and it ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the “this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.
He won’t come up with one – at least not one he’d share with his supporters (been there, done that). He’s built his entire candidacy around his “judgment” to oppose the war when so many others would not, and his “committment” to withdraw from Iraq quickly in order to refocus back on Afghanistan.
In addition to that, anytime the issue of Iraq and the progress being made there is brought up, or when he gets caught in a gaffe about Iraq, both Obama and his campaign make it a point to shift the topic away from positive news about Iraq or the gaffe and go back to the judgment issue. They even did this after McCain initially invited him to take a trip to Iraq. He only backtracked a short time later when McCain demonstrated how interesting it was that he would turn down a trip to Iraq to meet with Petraeus, considering Obama’s willingness to meet unconditionally with some of the world’s most notorious despots, including Iran’s president, who is helping fund some of the opposition groups in Iraq trying to murder our troops and our coalition partners in order to weaken the will of the US.
McCain needs to make sure this issue stays on the front burner for the duration of the campaign, because it demonstrates that most everything Barack Obama says is politically calculated. Even in the face of success, he refuses to admit the obvious – he can’t admit it right now, because he’s still trying to appeal to anti-war liberal Democrats. But he’ll have to walk a tightrope during the general, because he’ll be talking to people whose first option for Iraq isn’t automatically to cut and run – even if they do believe the war was a mistake – especially considering that the news coming out of the country is more good than bad. McCain is in a strong position to argue how wrong Obama is on his Iraq policy, not only because of the changing-for-the-better situation in Iraq, but also considering McCain himself knows all too well what it’s like to be fighting in a winnable war, only to see the possibility of victory snatched away by politicians more interested in political gains in the short term rather than national security gains for the long term.
During the debates, McCain needs to approach the Iraq issue like this: Obama has painted him as a Bush stooge on the Iraq issue, but McCain was among the few Republicans willing to openly criticize the admin’s Iraq policy after it started to go south, and was one of the first to call for more troops as part of an overall troop surge. It was Bush who came around to that way of thinking, not McCain tagging along with Bush. McCain should also point out that Barack Obama opposed the very surge which is seeing the big successes that we wouldn’t have seen if Obama had had his way last year when he proposed that all combat brigades be withdrawn by March 2008. McCain needs to also stress that while they obviously disagreed on the decision to go in, that we are there now, and that he as a veteran of the Vietnam war understands well that the US has the duty and obligation to complete the mission not just for the security of the Iraqi people, but for the long term national security interests of the United States, as well as to honor the memories of those who have died trying to make this happen. Pulling out too soon, McCain should argue, would be like snatching that victory away all over again, a victory that so many of the troops Barack Obama claims to support have given their lives for.
Any other Republican candidate who tried to make that argument wouldn’t be able to sell it as effectively, because they weren’t Vietnam POWs who spent years refusing to bow down to their brutal captors, and weren’t part of a war that we could have won if only our political ‘leaders’ here at home would have had steel for spines rather than jello. McCain’s history as a veteran and POW will serve him well on this argument and Obama’s spinmeisters, who have earned their keep in trying to re-frame the Iraq issue, will have a very difficult time helping their candidate counter it.