Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th July 2008
The Washington Post’s lead editorial on Wednesday, “The Iron Timetable,” made clear from the start that the paper’s editorial board will be little more than an auxiliary of the McCain campaign from now on:
Barack Obama yesterday accused President Bush and Sen. John McCain of rigidity on Iraq: ““They said we couldn’t leave when violence was up, they say we can’t leave when violence is down.” Mr. Obama then confirmed his own foolish consistency. Early last year, when the war was at its peak, the Democratic candidate proposed a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat forces in slightly more than a year. Yesterday, with bloodshed at its lowest level since the war began, Mr. Obama endorsed the same plan. After hinting earlier this month that he might “refine” his Iraq strategy after visiting the country and listening to commanders, Mr. Obama appears to have decided that sticking to his arbitrary, 16-month timetable is more important than adjusting to the dramatic changes in Iraq.
Well, good for him — if that’s what Senator Obama has decided (I still believe so), and if he actually sticks to that decision (I wish I could count on it).
In one way, Wednesday’s editorial may have set a land speed record for “fastest to be overtaken by events,” given the “time horizon” gambit now being floated by the Bush administration itself. But neocons and their media enablers are never ones to let the facts get in their way. So in case the editorial’s argument — that is, its cheap rhetorical trick — is used more often in the days ahead, it’s worth taking on. The question isn’t whether Obama (or McCain) are “foolishly” consistent about how to conduct the mission in Iraq in the face of some changed conditions. The question is whether having U.S. troops in Iraq was, is, or ever will be in our country’s best interest. And whether the Post likes it or not, that question was answered “no” a long time ago.
As Senator Obama noted, “What’s missing in our debate is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq.” And the Post’s reply to that is telling (emphases added):
Indeed: The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war’s outcome — that Iraq “distracts us from every threat we face” and thus must be speedily evacuated regardless of the consequences. That’s an irrational and ahistorical way to view a country at the strategic center of the Middle East, with some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Whether or not the war was a mistake, Iraq’s future is a vital U.S. security interest. If he is elected president, Mr. Obama sooner or later will have to tailor his Iraq strategy to that reality.
Largest oil reserves? That’s funny, last I checked invading Iraq was all about the central front in the war on terror. Before that it was freedom, democracy, and all that jazz. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Before that it was Saddam’s nonexistent ties to Bin Laden. (Remember Bin Laden?)
But even on the Post’s realpolitik premise, they’re wrong. First, Iraqis will remain eager to sell us as much oil as we’re stupid enough to have to buy. Second, broadly speaking, when the United States finds itself “doing counterinsurgency,” we’ve already screwed up. That’s what we’ve been doing in Iraq: American troops killing whoever’s killing them back that month, on behalf of a mission that changes from one six month unit to the next.
Third: as the “time horizon” concession (such as it is) makes clear, even the people we’re allegedly propping up want us out, and sooner rather than later. The oddest thing about the editorial was its silence about the Maliki government’s own demands for a withdrawal date. The people hanging on to power in the Green Zone realized their best bet is to create some plausible distance between them and the U.S., and a plausible timeline for a U.S. departure. If so, this week’s “show of force” in Sadr City is more for our consumption than for Sadr’s, i.e., “see? we run things. now leave.”
There’s more to dislike about the editorial — the patently false claim that a 16 month timetable for withdrawal is militarily infeasible, for starters.
But while it’s not the most important thing about the piece, I think it’s revealing that the editorial’s lede speaks of “Barack Obama,” but “President Bush” and “Sen. John McCain.”
That’s “Senator Obama” to you, Fred Hiatt, for the remainder of the campaign. The Washington Post likes to set itself up as arbiter of ‘serious’ talk about foreign policy, but its execution is not often this plainly ham-handed: Senators and Presidents think unfoolishly, Baracks think foolishly. While I remain a Missourian (i.e., “show me”) about Obama, I’m already clear about the Post: they’re not on my side, or the American people’s side, when it comes to this war, this occupation, and this oil reserves empire.