American Elephants


Not exactly a foreign policy you can believe in… by The Elephant's Child

There’s a perennially popular genre of literature which might be called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”. Small children, in all innocence, give charming answers to questions because they know so little.

Another version is based on the answers that college students write on exam questions. These are more often hilarious in their utter stupidity. The entire genre is based on the fact that we, as educated adults, know the subject well, and they, groping for an answer to a question on which they are poorly informed, make silly mistakes. It is usually enough to remind any adult that a simple “I don’t know” is a wise answer.

There are degrees of knowing about any subject ranging from superficial to mastery, and those who reach true mastery recognize that there is always more to learn. But as the old saying goes: “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

Which brings me to Barack Obama’s op-ed in the New York Times.

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

Must have seemed like a gift when some news reports claimed that Maliki had called for a timetable for removal of American troops. Obama’s insistence on removing troops was becoming increasingly untenable. He’d just removed all his previous statements on the surge from his website, assuming that voters were unfamiliar with Google.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Maliki said.

The BBC reports that in an audio recording of his speech he did not use the word “withdrawal”. Elections are coming, and Maliki’s speech was directed to that audience. Some Iraqis are anxious for us to leave: Some are fearful that we will not be patient enough with them to allow them enough time to learn how to be a democracy. A US official close to the talks with the Iraqi government said “the troops will leave when the Iraqis are ready to take over. …It is politics — how you package it, how you sell it to your people. They want our support, but they also want to show that there’s progress towards sovereignty.” Obama goes on:

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office.I would give the military a new mission; ending this war.

Sigh. If Obama had been paying attention and keeping informed, he would be aware of the recommended force reductions and mission shift broadcast by General Petraeus during his testimony to Congress in September of 2007. And he might be aware that all of the important benchmarks have been met.

In San Diego, Obama argued that “just because Sen. John McCain had made multiple visits to Iraq, that does not mean that he has the correct perspective on the region”. Well, at least McCain is well informed.

Obama also remarked earlier that he knew more about foreign policy than Senator McCain or George W. Bush because he had lived in Indonesia (from age 6 to age 10).

Obama is still trying to validate his big moment when he opposed the Iraq War while he was still in the Illinois legislature, which endears him to the anti-war crowd. He didn’t understand the reasons for going into Iraq. He didn’t understand the reasons for the surge. He doesn’t grasp the nature of Islamic jihad. And he has apparently never studied a map of the region. Along with announcing how many brigades he’s going to move around, he’s now attempting to push the tired old Democrat spin that the real war is only in Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden.

I find this endlessly fascinating. How do the Democrats do it? Do they all get together in a meeting and someone says — “I know, let’s say that the war isn’t in Iraq, that we’re really supposed to be chasing Osama in Afghanistan. I’ll bet we can get away with that.” Or perhaps they get a memo from MoveOn.org with the talking points, which they circulate, because they all say the same thing in the same words. Do they have rehearsals?

And how do they all manage to forget the same things at the same time?

Obama is going to great lengths to appear “presidential”. There are the sets designed to look like a presidential press conference, the array of flags in photographs, and of course, his “presidential seal” (quickly disposed of when it evoked more humor than awe). There’s the decision to deliver his acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver rather than at the convention site. Obama says he wants to give the common folk more “access” to the process. Uh huh. Visions of Leni Riefenstahl.  Do you think there will be torches?

And then a demand to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate like Presidents Kennedy and Reagan (he might wait until he’s actually a president, and it is usual for those things to be arranged quietly behind the scenes). German officials were not too keen on allowing their historic spot to be used as a prop for a candidate. It puts the German government in the awkward position of appearing to favor one candidate.

Obama’s now backed off on that, but seems unaware of the foreign policy gaffes he is making, or the problems he is creating. The rewriting of NAFTA created big problems with Mexico and Canada, opposing a free trade agreement with Columbia, invading Pakistan, the embarrassing Jerusalem gaffe all presented foreign policy problems that had to be soothed. And his pronouncements on getting out of Iraq aren’t going down too well in Europe.

On his upcoming trip abroad, he is making it clear that he isn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan to learn, but to enhance his image. It’s (as usual) all about him. With a crew of star liberal TV anchors along to interview him at significant sites (looking presidential) he expects to raise his foreign policy qualifications. Oh, so that’s how it’s done.

Let me be clear. People may differ on the war. People may be opposed to the war, but if they are going to make pronouncements about the war, then they need to know what they are talking about. For Obama, this is a problem, and it is a problem for America. He does say the darnedest things, but it’s not funny.

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