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Obama, Democrats, and the Surge

They were against it before it worked.

Jul 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 43 • By PETER WEHNER
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This is the week that the Democratic party ran up the white flag when it comes to the surge in Iraq. Leading the surrender was none other than Barack Obama, the Democratic party's presumptive nominee for president and among the most vocal critics of the counterinsurgency plan that has transformed the Iraq war from a potentially catastrophic loss to what may turn out to be a historically significant victory.

On Monday, Obama wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he acknowledged the success of the surge. "In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge," Obama wrote, "our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda--greatly weakening its effectiveness." A day later, Obama gave a speech in which he declared for the first time that "true success" and "victory in Iraq" were possible. In addition, the Obama campaign scrubbed its presidential website to remove criticism of the surge.

The debate, then, is over, and the (landslide) verdict is in: The surge has been a tremendous success.

Obama, in typical fashion, is trying to use the success of the surge he opposed to justify his long-held commitment to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq as quickly as possible. But turning Iraq into a winning political issue won't be nearly as easy as Obama once thought. He has stepped into a trap of his own making.

The trap was set when Obama repeatedly insisted that his superior "judgment" on Iraq is more important than experience in national security affairs. Judgment, according to Obama, is what qualifies him to be commander in chief. So what can we discern about Obama's judgment on the surge, easily the most important national security decision since the Iraq war began in March 2003?

To answer that question, we need to revisit what Obama said about the surge around the time it was announced. In October 2006--three months before the president's new strategy was unveiled--Obama said, "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."

On January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared, "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." A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would "not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly." And in reaction to the president's January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said,

I don't think the president's strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum--military and civilian, conservative and liberal--expressed great skepticism about it. 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.

In July, after evidence was amassing that the surge was working, Obama said, "My assessment is that the surge has not worked."

Obama, then, was not only wrong about the surge; he was spectacularly wrong. And he continued to remain wrong even as mounting evidence of its success gave way to overwhelming evidence of its success.

But Obama is not alone. Virtually the entire Democratic party, including every Democrat running for president, opposed the surge. For example, Senator Joseph Biden--considered by some pundits a foreign policy sage--declared, a few days before the surge was announced, "If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he's going to, into Baghdad, it'll be a tragic mistake."

Hillary Clinton, on the night the surge was announced, said, "Based on the president's speech tonight, I cannot support his proposed escalation of the war in Iraq."