OBAMA ON IRAQ….Two big speeches in two days for Barack Obama. Today, in a big speech on Iraq, he takes some strong shots at both Hillary Clinton and John McCain (“What we need in our next Commander in Chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3 AM phone calls”) and argues that we’re fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time:
If you believe we are fighting the right war, then the problems we face are purely tactical in nature. That is what Senator McCain wants to discuss — tactics. What he and the Administration have failed to present is an overarching strategy: how the war in Iraq enhances our long-term security, or will in the future. That’s why this Administration cannot answer the simple question posed by Senator John Warner in hearings last year: Are we safer because of this war? And that is why Senator McCain can argue — as he did last year — that we couldn’t leave Iraq because violence was up, and then argue this year that we can’t leave Iraq because violence is down.
….The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There’s a lot more in this vein, and the speech was heavily focused on the purely military aspects of the war on terror — too heavily focused for my taste. But there were nods here and there to nonmilitary issues, including this nicely delivered paragraph:
Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have made the same arguments against my position on diplomacy, as if reading from the same political playbook. They say I’ll be penciling the world’s dictators on to my social calendar. But just as they are misrepresenting my position, they are mistaken in standing up for a policy of not talking that is not working. What I’ve said is that we cannot seize opportunities to resolve our problems unless we create them. That is what Kennedy did with Khrushchev; what Nixon did with Mao; what Reagan did with Gorbachev. And that is what I will do as President of the United States.
That last sentence is clever, associating himself with three presidents who are widely admired as toughminded negotiators. It’s a neat play, both rhetorically and substantively.
Overall, not a bad speech. There wasn’t too much new in it, and I wish he had taken on some broader themes, but overall it helped his cause. Not only was he firm about wanting to leave Iraq (thus addressing Hillary’s exploitation of Samantha Power’s remarks that Obama would “revisit” withdrawal when be became president), but he gave good reasons for wanting to leave. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 7.