Obama on Target With Sensible, Measured Iraq Drawdown Plan

Posted July 14, 2008 at 3:20pm

Iran fired a couple of nuclear test missiles last week, and the world is rightly concerned. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki fired a political test missile at the Bush administration last week, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be concerned.

[IMGCAP(1)]With the United Nations mandate set to expire at the end of 2008, the United States and Iraq are negotiating a formula to legally define the status of U.S. forces in Iraq. Now is the time to face some facts.

Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are larger threats to American national security than Iraq ever was — especially now, when, in Iraq, al-Qaida is on the run, the Sunnis are joining the coalition government and the Shiites are turning against their militias. Yet the Republican presidential candidate howls his lapdog refrain of the Bush administration’s call for a formal U.S. military architecture in Iraq that could last for decades, while Iraqis seek assurance that our troops are not going to be there forever.

Maliki and McCain are both facing elections this fall. Just as growing machismo pushed the GOP presidential candidate to one-up our mucho-macho president by gleefully predicting up to “100 years” of U.S. occupation in Iraq, a growing tide of nationalism within his country is pushing the Iraqi prime minister to insist on a withdrawal timeline, thereby framing any new “status of forces” agreement as an outline for Americans leaving rather than the conditions under which they will stay.

With 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and $1 trillion in U.S. taxpayer money spent on Iraq ($200 billion more than was budgeted for), the measured words of Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s often-repeated mantra regarding the war bears further repetition: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”

Setting a realistic and responsible timetable for the slow and gradual withdrawal of American forces, as called for by Obama, has been McCain’s major indictment against the Democrats. Just this past weekend a McCain spokesman cited Obama’s plan — to redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them from Iraq in 16 months, leaving just a residual U.S. force there by summer 2010 — as an example of his lack of experience and weakness. As stated earlier, now’s a good time to review some facts.

First, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, recently estimated that the Iraqi army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for the country’s security in 2009 — a year ahead of Obama’s proposed timetable.

Second, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, recently stated that we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our troop commitment in Iraq.

Third, if a host country says foreign troops should be vastly reduced in number by a given date and a newly elected U.S. president refuses to accept that timetable, well, call me crazy, but won’t we then be considered invaders of that country with our unwelcome and unsanctioned presence?

Come December, when the U.N. agreement expires and a temporary “bridge” needs to be fully negotiated, who will look weak and inexperienced: President Obama or President McCain?

McCain is of the same mindset as the current administration and its GOP echo chamber on Capitol Hill. They tell us that America is weak if she speaks with her enemies; yet they do, behind the scenes, all the time. They pretend to be tough; yet their schoolyard bullying and bellicose swagger endangers our security and undermines any pretense of a thoughtful foreign policy. They repeat old lies and spread new rumors; they whisper, for example, that Israel won’t wait until a new U.S. president is sworn in before swooping in to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. And, when all else fails, they stoke our fears of another 9/11.

If for no other reason, McCain should join Obama in talking straight about withdrawal because our own national security requires a drawdown. The real threat to U.S. interests and Middle East stability rests in Afghanistan, not Iraq.

Al-Qaida is planning its future attacks on America and her allies from its safe haven in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden remains at large and is thought to be hiding in the Afghan mountains near the Pakistani border. Meanwhile, violence and attacks on American-led forces in Iraq have dropped to their lowest levels since early 2004. In fact, more American and allied troops were killed in Afghanistan than died in Iraq in May, June and, if this month’s trend holds, July. Lastly, according to the Pentagon, fighting in Afghanistan is expected to intensify all throughout the summer.

Many of my friends in the net roots and the progressive community are dismayed by press reports that Obama has shifted his position on Iraq. Even the most cursory scan of his speeches and policy statements reveals no such shift, leaving one to wonder whether this entire kerfuffle is yet another Republican-inspired poisoned narrative launched into the blogosphere to divide and distract the American people from the truth.

Obama has consistently said that, if elected, he would withdraw one or two brigades each month. This would take about two years for U.S. forces to depart as the Iraqi forces step up in our place to ensure the insurgents and militias do not fill the gaps.

Our national security requires that we begin a sensible and measured drawdown in Iraq while reinforcing the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Democrats are not afraid to lead this conversation at the same time that Iraqis discuss their future: before the elections.

It’s time to do the right thing by making the smart move. It’s time to set a timetable. It’s time to celebrate our troops and all they have sacrificed and achieved with a homecoming.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.