As a Navy pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan (2002) and Iraq (2003) and now as a Member of Congress, I cannot react to the news of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s resurgence in Fallujah and Ramadi with anything but frustration and anger.
Frustration – because so much American blood was spilled wresting these cities from insurgents. Anger – because the Obama Administration put ideology and politics above the national interest. Our policy in Afghanistan must be more responsible than our policy in Iraq.
In his soon-to-be-published memoirs, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates correctly notes that Vice President Joe Biden – the man once in charge of negotiating America’s post-war presence in Iraq – has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Biden famously advocated dividing Iraq into three autonomous regions based on ethnicity.
Given a resurgent Al Qaeda in Iraq, Vice President Biden may see his ethnic segregation policy realized, following a long, bloody Iraqi disintegration. Yet the violent eruption in Anbar Province represents – to borrow President Obama’s hackneyed phrase – a “teachable moment” for the president: Placing politics above national security is deadly, and it damages our national security, our interests, and our reputation.
The precipitous and politically motivated abandonment of Iraq must not be recreated in Afghanistan. According to Gates, the president’s policy position toward Afghanistan is that he “doesn’t consider the war to be his” and is “all about getting out.” Those of us who have fought for this country expect the Commander in Chief to make decisions in the best interest of our nation, regardless of whether he considers the war to be “his.” Too many people have sacrificed too much for this president to render our efforts in vain for political expediency.
Based on his flip-flopping on Iraq, I am skeptical that President Obama can put America’s interests before political opportunism when it comes to any tough foreign policy decision. In 2007, then-Senator Obama opposed President Bush’s surge in Iraq and described the strategy as “a policy which has already been tried and a policy which has failed.”
The surge, in fact, was overwhelmingly successful. President Bush deserves credit for ignoring politics, persevering in the face of inconsistent public opinion, resisting naysayers in Congress, and doing what was right for our nation. In contrast, President Obama deserves credit only for exploiting a political opportunity… until he was wrong.
In June 2006, then-Senator Obama argued that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would “leave behind a security vacuum filled with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing, and genocide that could engulf large swaths of the Middle East and endanger America.” He was correct. However, in August 2010 when political calculations had changed, President Obama confidently asserted that “these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people… and they have no interest in endless destruction.” So, the president predicted that abandoning Iraq would destabilize the country before predicting that abandoning Iraq would stabilize the country.
Rather than listening to the Obama of 2006, the Obama of 2010 was committed to a precipitous withdrawal, apparently for political reasons, overriding the best judgment of professional military advisers. Obama compounded his error by putting Joe Biden in charge of negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq, which is a bilateral agreement permitting U.S. military forces to remain in the country. Was there any doubt that the SOFA negotiation effort would collapse under the leadership of a man committed to immediate withdrawal and ethnic segregation in Iraq? It would seem by not securing a SOFA, Joe Biden proved himself correct on failure in Iraq. Obama declared victory as we withdrew, leaving Iraq exposed to resurgent mayhem.
President Obama’s predisposition to place political convenience above sound judgment weakens our relationships with our partners and allies and emboldens our adversaries and enemies. As we are seeing now, doing whatever it took to secure the SOFA and keep a residual presence in Iraq during the transition would have been the right position. I wish the President would give up trying to follow currently fashionable opinion and remember that he once observed: “The lesson of Iraq is that when we are making decisions about matters as a grave as war, we need a policy rooted in reason and facts, not ideology and politics.” The President should heed his own advice in Afghanistan.