Written by Aaron M. Rodriguez
At the beginning of the election cycle in 2007, the war in Iraq was visibly a black eye on the Republican Party. At the time, violence in Iraq was widespread, tribal factions were on the brink of civil war, and the Iraqi Security Forces were reticent to assume ownership of major military operations. With billions of taxpayer dollars invested and thousands of soldiers returning home in funerary boxes, the American public lost its resolve to finish what she had started. As a corollary, President Bush’s favorability ratings abruptly dropped into near-record lows, and Republicans were aghast about the possibility of sustaining a substantial loss of congressional seats in 2008.
Democrats smelt blood and seized opportunities to milk the Iraqi cow. Senator Barack Obama launched his campaign highlighting foreign policy differences between himself and Senator John McCain. With a politicians’ tongue, he weaponized the politics of the Iraq against his political opponents. He enjoyed the sui generis of opposing so-called “dumb” wars of undermined lengths, costs, and consequences. With polls suggesting that the American public has turned against the war, partly facilitated by the leftist media, Obama’s early opposition to the invasion provided an excellent backdrop of being a candidate of clear vision and adept foreign policy.
Senator McCain, on the other hand, quickly became the caricature of conventional Washington politics that supported Bush’s war and had succeeded at “driving the bus into the ditch.” At his own peril, McCain stayed faithful to the course set by the overwhelming Congressional vote to confront Saddam’s regime. His commitment to Iraq underwent certain trials and tribulations, and at times, the war appeared to be the proverbial anchor around his neck.
Things changed however. A new insurgency strategy, mobilized by General David Petraeus, battered and pushed Al Qaeda from their former strongholds, amassed copious amounts of intelligence, and successfully quelled intra-sectarian violence in urban areas. And as a result, the Iraqi Security Forces grew in strength, size, and reputation. Last year alone, the ISF procured over 100,000 soldiers and have risen to meet the complex security needs of Iraq, which includes new training bases, not to mention more divisions, battalions, and brigades. Like all modern military infrastructures, the ISF now possesses an army, navy, marine corps, national police, border enforcement, logistics battalions, special operations forces, a counter-terrorism bureau, a national operational command, and a newly established presidential brigade.
As a corollary to such modernization, security in Iraq has improved considerably. So considerably, in fact, that the media no longer views the Iraq War worthy of dense coverage (see graph below) Currently, the ISF are handling most of their own security and are leading major military operations in places such as Basra and Sadr City. And for the first time since the invasion, foreign nations such as Kuwait and federations like the United Arab Emirates are working to reestablish embassies and ambassadors in Iraq. This is particularly groundbreaking because it conveys to the world that Iraq, as a nation, is coming to its own as a sovereignty entity.
Of course, with increased security comes economic growth. In Iraq, over 30,000 private sector businesses have been registered, and crude oil production and centralized electricity production now exceeds pre-war levels. And although unemployment is unacceptably high in Iraq, inflation has fallen by over 60% and economic growth is currently at 7%. And the Iraqi citizenry has felt the shift in security and the growth of their economy as well. A recent BBC poll indicates that more than half of Iraqis believe that life is good in Iraq, 49% believe that the justification for America to invade Iraq was “absolutely right,” and 59% believe that the Coalition should remain until security is restored or when the ISF can operate independently.
In the past few months, Barack Obama has found himself in a political pickle of sorts by the success in Iraq (See graph below) In January of 2008, Obama’s campaign website posted criticisms of Bush’s surge in their “Problem Section.” Obama argued that Bush’s Surge was likely to exacerbate the situation in Iraq by reducing pressure on the Iraqis to find their own political solutions. In fact, he went as far to say that, since the Surge, the Iraqi legislature appeared “to go on vacation.” A few months later, however, Obama was forced to acknowledge, at least implicitly, that the drop in violence and improvement in security conditions was due to the surge. And just recently, Obama’s website has removed criticisms of “Bush’s Surge” altogether.
In fact, on June 19th, “The Hill” reported that Al Maliki backed the proposed withdrawal plans of Presidential candidate Barack Obama suggesting that the Senator “is right” about his withdrawal timetable of 16 months. What is particularly interesting about his statement is they appear to be in agreement, but for different reasons. As early in 2007, Obama rationalized that a withdrawal was needed because conditions in Iraq were deteriorating, violence was increasing in urban areas, and the Iraqi government appeared disinclined to assume a major role in their own security and leadership. Since the Surge took effect, however, conditions in Iraq significantly improved, violence in civilian areas are the lowest in four years, and the ISF now plays a dominant role in its own national security and military offensives. If these were the very conditions that compelled Obama to propose a timetable, then what compels him to maintain his position now that these problems are largely resolved?
Al Maliki, on the other hand, agrees that a withdrawal timetable is desirable, not because the conditions in Iraq have worsened as Obama had supposed, but because the success of the surge was so pandemic. Also, given the history in Iraq of assassinating high officials, it is unlikely that Prime Minister Al Maliki would suggest a military strategy that he personally believed would put his life at risk. However, such a choice is not his for the making. His position of leadership exists only because the U.S had placed him there. Therefore, such a determination will be based upon an assessment of ground conditions made by U.S. military officials.
In conclusion, the war in Iraq is no longer a tender issue for the Republican Party. Senator McCain ought to take Obama to task over his opposition to the Surge. If someone is willing to parade himself as the only candidate who transcends Washington politics and uniquely possesses sound judgment in foreign policy, then one ought to take the lumps when such a judgment has been proven erroneous. In fact, a poll released this week by the New York Times and CBS News indicates that only 24% of people believe that Barack Obama is likely to be an effective Commander-in-Chief, whereas 46% of respondents believe that John McCain is likely to be an effective Commander-in-Chief. Senator McCain needs to vivify the point that his opponent lacks the foreign policy expertise necessary for sound judgment as the Commander-in-Chief. Until he does this, he will continue to fight an uphill election battle and risk losing a viable shot at the presidency.