Obamacare and the Iraq Surge

Obamacare and the Iraq Surge

Barack Obama hated the Iraq surge. He didn’t just oppose it: he confidently predicted its failure, then refused to acknowledge its success. To be fair, he was not alone: official Washington, right and left, shared that view. But the surge was the right policy, and drastically reduced both civilian deaths and U.S. military casualties. Only our hasty, total, and unnecessary withdrawal–under President Obama–has undone it.

Obama wanted the surge to fail because he wanted George W. Bush to fail, and–more importantly–he wanted an assertive U.S. foreign policy to fail. That is why he was a denialist for so long. His own Afghanistan surge was much delayed, far too small, and had a fixed timeline set by political concerns, not conditions on the ground. The result has been increased casualties and an increasingly unstable Afghanistan.

Why is that important? Because it relates, indirectly, to the charge Obama now aims at critics of Obamacare, his most important policy and potentially his greatest failure. (He has now appropriated the term “surge” to describe the technical fixes to the Obamacare website, a quiet tribute to Bush’s success.) As White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday, responding to a question about numbers of enrollees (emphasis mine):

CARNEY: I suppose that somebody could provide a rough estimate, but the point is you want to get accurate information when you release it publicly. If the purpose of this line of questioning, which I know is of fierce interest to those who never wanted affordable health insurance available to the American people to begin with, is to demonstrate that those numbers are low, we concede that they will be. 

The Obama White House’s favorite move is to question its critics’ motives–a tactic straight out of Animal Farm. It is functionally equivalent to questioning the patriotism of critics of the Iraq War or the war on terror in general–something that the Bush administration was accused of doing but rarely actually did. And yet it was true of most critics of Bush’s war policies, such as the surge, that they never wanted the war at all.

That is not true of critics of Obamacare regarding health insurance. Critics from the left have said all along that a single-payer, government-run system would have been better. Critics from the right have said that a more market-driven system would have made health insurance more widely available–just not through the government. There is no one–no one–who opposed the idea of more affordable health insurance at all.

During the Obamacare debate in 2010, I attended a lecture by John Crowley, the biotech executive whose life’s mission is to develop new treatments for rare diseases, including a rare disorder that affects two of his children. He opposed Obamacare because his hope lay in the innovation that could only arise in a system that rewarded success with profit. He believed everyone should have insurance–just not through government.

Government is inefficient. But there are some things that only the government can provide, such as national security. Most other things are better provided privately. Obama refuses to accept Obamacare is failing, any more than that the surge was working. So he casts a dispute over means as one about ends. That deception is more divisive than arguing, sincerely, over tactics in wartime. Especially because the Iraq surge really worked.