October 31st, 2008

What surge?

Back in 2004, Iraq was not only an issue in the Presidential campaign, it was the issue. Now, four years later and in the closing days of another race for an office that has as one of its most essential roles Commander in Chief, there is barely a whisper about that country and our policy there.

This is certainly not because the question was settled long ago. In the past year, events in Iraq have been changing so much that now the American public, so pessimistic before, acknowledges that the surge has been a success and the situation in Iraq looks quite promising:

In early January 2007, 71 percent of Americans said the Iraq war was going moderately badly to very badly. Indeed, the war had been unpopular for much of the previous years, at times deeply so. But by this past September, a nationwide Pew survey found “a striking rise in public optimism about the situation in Iraq.” According to the poll, 58 percent of Americans now believe the war in Iraq is going well or very well, and the same percentage now also say that the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed in Iraq.

One would think that this sort of change would mean John McCain would be in the catbird seat in his run for the Presidency. After all, he had been one of the strongest advocates for the surge when few others saw its possibilities, and his opponent Barack Obama was not only one of its most vociferous detractors, but continued to say it was a failure long after its pluses were obvious. To this day he defends his vote against the surge.

Well, welcome to the real world of American politics. Of course, if not for the financial crisis, it’s possible that more people would be thinking about Iraq and the surge—but they are not. That’s why most of the last-minute political maneuvering involves comparing tax proposals, mulling over just how socialist Obama might be, and affixing the blame as to which party is most responsible for the financial mess. Not only is there a great deal of confusion on all these scores, but the topics seem to have crowded out foreign policy as a major consideration for many people on Election Day.

Why? It’s not just that Americans seem to have a short attention span. It’s also at least partly (maybe even mostly) because the financial news hits home, up close and personal (especially for anyone with a 401K or who has money in stocks), in a way that Iraq cannot at this point except for those Americans with loved ones fighting there.

Another reason is that the press will suppress news that is favorable to McCain and unfavorable to its favorite, Obama. Not only that, news of the success of the surge is unfavorable to the MSM itself, which almost uniformly shared Obama and the Democrats’ early objections to its implementation.

So in protecting Obama from too much focus on the good news, the press is also protecting itself. It’s not so difficult to figure out that people don’t like to admit they were wrong, and will do almost anything to avoid doing so. So the press is motivated to report as little as possible about Iraq, which is a pretty easy prescription to follow.

Does anyone on earth imagine, however, that there will be no important foreign policy and military decisions to be made in the administration of the next President? Hardly. We have to judge the two candidates in light of this fact.

Of course, there are many who think that Obama’s early opposition to the war in Iraq is all that matters regarding the country, and that his later poor judgment is irrelevant. There are those who think his reliance on the power of talking with the enemy is a wonderful development that will help the world to love us again. And there are those (such as myself) who think he is a dangerously naive neophyte, at best.

But whatever opinion a person may hold on which man has the better approach, these are now—and will no doubt remain—exceedingly important issues. And the best example of both men’s judgment that we have is their actual performance on the surge, both in the days of the initial proposal, and after it was implemented and found to be working (Obama’s risk-free early opposition to the war having occurred when he was a State Senator in a district so heavily liberal that he probably would have been run out of town if he’d said anything else). I know who I think has shown by far the better judgment.

[ADDENDUM: A helpful summary of what the press is leaving out about the Obama campaign by the superb Victor Davis Hanson. And I've even managed to learn how to spell his name properly this time.]

26 Responses to “What surge?”

  1. A fan Says:

    “Drinking with Bob” addresses essentially the same issue in his own, unique way:

    http://blip.tv/file/1383038

  2. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Conservative Extremist Says:

    The Obama campaign jettisoned 3 members of the press whose papers have been critical of the Messiah and his policies in favor of squeezing aboard people who are more likely to be favorable towards “the one”.

    Metaphorically, a similar move has bee made by the press who have jettisoned truth and objectivity as being illustratively critical of liberal ideology. People like William Ayers, an unrepentant leftist terrorist and Obama political ally are being shoe-horned into the role of the misunderstood critic of a deeply flawed America, while General Patreus is eased into obscurity along side traditional American values of hard work, determined self sacrifice and real, tangible moral convictions.

    I know, it requires for me a “willing suspension of belief” (H Clinton), that this is the direction we are heading. Never the less, it seems that is what is actually happening. America down the memory hole. Orwell was certainly prescient.

  3. FredHjr Says:

    If the price of the “world loving us again” is more Americans killed and wounded by Islamic jihad, or more Israelis killed and wounded by Hizb’allah and Hamas, then I would rather the rest of the world despise us with a burning, unquenchable hatred.

    I left the Left in 1987, towards the end of the Cold War, after I decided that there was no defensible epistemological basis for socialist thought. And I then wandered in a soft Left to moderate to conservative Democrat wasteland until the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing and the African embassies being bombed just before that. I was on the side of expelling the Baathists from Kuwait before that. I was never, ever sympathetic to Paleosimian and Muslim terrorist organizations and states. So, after 9/11 and the Hard Left’s decision to ally itself with the terrorists and the rogue states, I knew there was never, ever any going back.

    The Left is morally bankrupt and ever will be. I could see it, in hints and bits and pieces even before 1987, but as time went by the mosaic was becoming ever more clear.

    I only wish that more people who describe themselves as “progressives” (a.k.a., socialists) would stop and really do a lot of thought experiments with the philosophical bases for their ideas.

  4. Tater Says:

    “these are now—and will no doubt remain—exceedingly important issues. ”

    Unfortunately, they also remain irrelevant in this election. It’s the old saying, the average American voter is pretty stupid, and over half of them are even dumber.

    Later

  5. Dan Says:

    Maybe Pres Obama can employ surge tactics in Chicago, which has suffered more deaths from gunshot wounds than American forces in Iraq in the last few months. Oops, I forgot: he will just work to take guns away from law abiding citizens and let the criminals alone.

  6. Dave Moelling Says:

    I always thought the opposition to the Iraq war was only skin deep in most people. This was proven by the failure of the Democratic congress to cut funding. There was no draft, casualties were low by any historical standard, and morale was high. The public did not want to lose, but it was embarrassed to be forced to take responsiblility so the left could romp without much risk.

    This is much the same as the perceived support for Obama. In public many do not want to be seen as not supporting the black candidate or the perceived “cool” candidate. When in the privacy of the polling booth, I’m not sure it will be the same.

  7. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I think people simply grow weary. Americans can remain supportive of war for about three sustained years, and then they want it to be done – the facts on the ground are secondary. The January 2007 pessimism was mostly unwarranted – we were winning slowly, not losing. People felt relief at the Surge’s success, but not optimism; they had already crested over into just wanting it all to be gone.

    Though Obama’s campaign focus of “Change” and “Hope” have been justly criticised for being vacuous, nonspecific, evasive emotion-words, they have nonetheless been effective. A lot of people simply have an inchoate, elusive feeling that things are wrong and could be better. They gradually embrace the candidate selling that, and when he speaks in moderate tones and doesn’t look alarming, they’ll eventually sign the check.

    We have discussed often the false intellectualism of progressives, a self-congratulation that claims to be cerebral while responding to purely social and emotional cues, but we have seldom mentioned the many others who are voting for Obama. They develop rationalizations about his “leadership” or McCain’s temperament or something – we all always have a reason – but they are at bottom responding in spirit. They are weary and want uplift. We’ve had those other guys and life still sucks. Let’s try these guys instead. We all seek uplift in strange places, and sometimes regret our choices later.

  8. Mr. Frank Says:

    The MSM pushed hard for defeat in Iraq until it became obvious to all that they were wrong. Now that we have record low casualties and no “grim milestones,” they don’t cover the war.

    The MSM switched to beating down the economy months ago to boost the electoral fortunes of Democrats. They spoke of recession almost a year early. They throw around references to the Great Depression with no historical reference points. Then we had 25% unemployment and 50% of houses were in foreclosure. There was no insurance for bank deposits. Now we have 6.1% unemployment on the way to 8%. In 1982 it hit 10%. Fear not. When Obama moves in, the MSM will find much positive in the economy to write about.

  9. SteveH Says:

    I was worried about Obama winning this election. Until i discovered my most liberal friend i’ve known since the ninth grade doesn’t have an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on his car.

    This is unprecedented people. In what way you might ask? Because he still has the Kerry/Edwards sticker on!

    The messiah is in deep doo doo.

  10. Gringo Says:

    By midnight Tuesday, we should know, unless we have a repeat of 2000. Maybe ACORN will breathlessly rush to polling places after midnight, saying they had found some more ballots.

    INHO, most people have already made up their minds.

  11. Occam's Beard Says:

    The war in Iraq is over, and we’ve won. How do I know? Nary a peep in the media for months now. And God knows they’ve scoured Iraq for bad news, so if there were any, they’d have brought it up. Nada. Bupkis. Ergo, it’s going well. We’ve won.

    Same thing with Palin. They’ve spent over a month going over her life with an electron microscope, and so far have found a rumor that she once tore a tag off a mattress. Mother Teresa would’ve had a hard time withstanding that kind of scrutiny.

  12. FredHjr Says:

    If the media had been more honest, it would have reported the war more objectively – and more insightfully. The Baathist Fedayeen of Saddam were pre-positioned to fight a guerrilla war after the invasion. Saddam and the Russians knew the American forces could not be withstood. However, they did understand that after the actual invasion if the process of reorganizing Iraq and setting it on its feet could be sabotaged and dragged out, and if they could inflict American casualties to uncomfortable levels, there was a chance that we would lack the political will to see the job to the end. Iran was also involved, from their end, in trying to drive us out by a similar strategy. Al Qaeda also. Within a couple of years the Baathist Fedayeen were bled out, while AQ was stepping up its efforts. As was Iran.

    The unfair part of it all was that even before the surge we were militarily exacting a terrible toll on the enemy, even while he was butchering civilians by the boatload. But the media in this country was both cooperating with the enemy’s narrative and had political fish to fry.

    The net result is that the people were being deceived by the people who told them their Commander in Chief was the deceiver.

    The surge worked because of the hard work done before it was implemented. In no way this diminishes what Gen. Petraeus and the Iraqi leadership were accomplishing. My analogy: in 1968 Gen. Creighton Abrams took over MACV in Southeast Asia from Gen. William Westmoreland. A lot of people credit Gen. Abrams with winning militarily in South Vietnam, and his take and hold strategy did reap rewards. But it must be said that by the conclusion of the enemy’s failed ’68 Tet Offensive Westmoreland’s strategy laid the groundwork for Abrams to succeed, because Westmoreland had his forces find, fix, and annihilate the enemy forces. Had this not been done, Abrams’ strategy would not have worked. Why? Because there were fewer Communist troops to contest the ever-drawing down U.S. forces as they helped the ARVN forces to hold formerly Communist-controlled areas.

    War is still about killing the enemy and breaking his will to fight. You can’t demoralize him and break his will to fight if you are not bleeding him catastrophically.

  13. Thomass Says:

    Gringo Says:

    “Maybe ACORN will breathlessly rush to polling places after midnight, saying they had found some more ballots.”

    The word is the RNC will do some legal challenges this time… unless it is clear cut, its going to be ‘interesting’.

  14. Darrell Says:

    AAAhnold terminates Obama, this is really good:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxSW9nK3kI8

  15. Darrell Says:

    Our success from the surge is going to enable them to try to take a peace dividend while we are still at war, lived through that once, don’t want to do it again, this time though I fear it will make Clinton look like a major hawk. Already Barney is talking of a 25% cut to defense spending, that will decimate the military, I also don’t believe for a second the hawkish talk about Afghanistan, they will hamstring that effort and cut and run just like they wanted to do with Iraq, Ads replaying these remarks are playing heavily in the lower east coast corridor, they will probably have great effect, many areas of N Carolina, S Carolina and Virginia are heavily dependent on defense jobs, I still think McCain has a good shot but if he looses, expect a ton of military personnel to vote with their feet.

  16. J. Peden Says:

    I also don’t believe for a second the hawkish talk about Afghanistan, they will hamstring that effort and cut and run just like they wanted to do with Iraq….

    Agreed. The Left is running out of opportunities to surrender militarily, and they are no doubt very angry and worried about it. “Afghanistan is Vietnam.”

  17. Darrell Says:

    You have to get this sort of stuff overseas:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article5051118.ece

    Oh but since he brought it up, its ok.

    “Barack Obama’s senior advisers have drawn up plans to lower expectations for his presidency if he wins next week’s election, amid concerns that many of his euphoric supporters are harbouring unrealistic hopes of what he can achieve.

    The sudden financial crisis and the prospect of a deep and painful recession have increased the urgency inside the Obama team to bring people down to earth, after a campaign in which his soaring rhetoric and promises of “hope” and “change” are now confronted with the reality of a stricken economy.

    One senior adviser told The Times that the first few weeks of the transition, immediately after the election, were critical, “so there’s not a vast mood swing from exhilaration and euphoria to despair”.”

  18. Jimmy J. Says:

    FredHjr,
    Excellent analysis. If you have read all the Iraq war books, it is hard not to conclude that events pretty much had to go the way they did in order for the Iraqis to recognize that the U.S. was really their friend and had their best interests at heart. It took time for Al Qaeda to show their Islamic zeal and cruelty and for the average Iraqi to compare it to the way the Americans were. In the end it turned the average Iraqi against al Qaeda. The surge worked because of both the change in tactics and the surge of intelligence from Iraqis. As you point out, at no time were we ever in danger of a military defeat. What we were in danger of was a loss of will caused by the defeatism of the Dems and the MSM.

    Thank God “W” was like a bulldog in insisting that we would prevail. If you have read Woodward’s book, “THE WAR WITHIN,” you will learn that Bush had to overcome the resistance of General Casey and other Generals to keep focused on winning. Most of them wanted to declare victory and come home.

    Things are still fragile there and the influence of Iran is still a danger. That is why we need to be there for a few more years.

    Darrel,
    Like you I don’t believe Obama’s hawkish talk about Afghanistan either. He may put more troops in, but if, after a year or so, victory is elusive, the course of least resistance will be to declare victory and come home. Barney Frank calling for a 25% cut in defense is pretty much Dem orthodoxy. With the Dem controlled Congress leading the way, will Obama resist? I think not. It would please me to see a mass resignation by Flags who would rather be gone than carry out destructive military strategy.
    Just sayin.’

  19. Darrell Says:

    I actually think that the arrogance we have seen so far will lead to a Viet Nam style of leadership where “they” in the white house will know better how to conduct the war than the commanders on the ground. Code pink will have a major seat at the table, many promises have been made, many that we will never know about unless we connect the dots after the fact.
    I find it scary personally, the chance of people with these sorts of backgrounds could gain total control, Obama could not get a security clearance were he applying for a defense job today.
    The dems have always loathed the military regardless of what they say, if they can tear it down they will, without a doubt, a strong military stands between them and a total transformation of the USA. Which is the new buzz word as of today. Reverse 20 years of failed policy. I hope people hear this stuff, the last 20 years were not that bad, I don’t care what anybody says.

  20. John G. Spragge Says:

    Just before the Iraq victory party gets rowdy:

    According to the UNHCR, the body responsible for refugees, 4.7 million, or about one in five, Iraqi citizens have fled their homes and remain in internal or external exile.

    The plight of a huge number of displaced individuals and families remains a serious threat to the peace, stability, and reconstruction of Iraq. Most of these families can make claims on property seized, stolen or looted. Many more can make claims for redress based on breadwinners murdered. Will the government of Iraq settle with these people? How will they fund such a settlement, with revenues from oil? The price of a barrel of oil has already slumped from nearly $150 to $67 in four months.

    Just to make things more interesting for your government, the elected government of Iraq seems intent on giving the American forces the bum’s rush out of Iraq. Senator Obama said he would work to arrange the withdrawal of American forces by date certain. President Bush ridiculed the concept, and Senator McCain said (famously) that he would stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary. Both the “serious” Republicans seem to have forgotten all those purple fingers, but it seems that the Iraqis have a curious belief that the government of Iraq sits in Baghdad, not Washington, and they will accept nothing more (or less) than a status of forces agreement that will see the last American combat troops departing Iraq in 2011, about 92 years short of Senator McCain’s century of occupation.

    I would also point out that it takes money and an industrial base to support the use of military forces, and the state of the American economy, particularly the chronic indebtedness, has arguably reached the point where it has the potential to seriously affect American diplomatic, military, and even political freedom of action.

  21. Sergey Says:

    John, you seriously misrepresent McCain’s remark: he never endorsed “100 years of occupation”, he answered a question “how long US forces will stay in Iraq if Iraqi government would ask them to do so?”

  22. FredHjr Says:

    “Just to make things more interesting for your government”

    You mock our good graces, dear Canadian neighbor, as you benefit from employment in our land.

    No other power would have paid the price for their freedom in blood and treasure as we have in Mesopotamia. Even the Iraqi Army now owes its competence to our men and the American taxpayer.

    My, you do like to dance around the “occupation” theme!

  23. waltj Says:

    No matter how much he may want to be a “domestic policy president”, if, God forbid, he’s elected, a foreign crisis somewhere will bite Obama in the backside. Always does, no matter who is in charge. It may not be the “contrived” scenario that Sen. Biden mentioned, and it may not be one of our current situations, such as Afghanistan or Iran. It could just as easily be something that comes out of left field (Grenada and Rwanda are just two that nobody really saw coming; Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was another). Will he be ready for it? Based on what I’ve seen so far, no.

  24. Occam's Beard Says:

    the state of the American economy, particularly the chronic indebtedness, has arguably reached the point where it has the potential to seriously affect American diplomatic, military, and even political freedom of action.

    Good God, you mean we’re becoming as impotent as Canada? Now I’m really depressed.

    Btw, John, Canada’s public debt (as percentage of GDP) is 64.2%, while that of the United States is 60.8% – your MasterCard is more maxed out than ours is, and we’re essentially singlehandedly paying for defense of the democratic world, whereas you’re paying for…uh…what, exactly?

    The more I read Spragge’s drivel, the more I think we should use our dwindling power to clean out Canada next. Kidding, but considering the Canadian Army is smaller than the NY City police force…

    Sorry for the rant, and the personal invective, but I’m just tired of reading the same pinko anti-American crap all the time. Do lefties ever consider that Americans blow off the rest of the world not because we realize that they will dump on us in any case, and therefore there’s no point in trying?

  25. John G. Spragge Says:

    Occam: A rant, in these circumstances, merely demonstrates that you have no effective argument, backed by actual facts or references, to offer.

    You have a twelve trillion dollar international debt to people and governments that do not always have your best interests at heart; you just committed seven hundred billion dollars to a bailout which, combined with this year’s “ordinary” deficit, has pushed your debt to about 76% of GDP, way over Canada’s debt/GDP ratio; you have an elected Iraqi government proposing a status of forces agreement that requires the withdrawal of US troops in three years, all but containing the words: don’t let the doorknob hit you in the butt.

    I don’t blame any American for finding these realities somewhat frustrating, but ranting won’t help. You have to come up with policies to fix the problems.

  26. Occam's Beard Says:

    You have a twelve trillion dollar international debt to people and governments that do not always have your best interests at heart;

    OK, I get it, we owe money to Canada.

    You have to come up with policies to fix the problems.

    How about we just take over Canada?

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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