Monday, April 27, 2009

Hillary Gates Obama

Andrew Sullivan worries:

By far the most alarming thing yet said by the Obama administration was secretary of state Clinton's assurance that

We are committed to seeing an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant, and fully integrated into the region.

But, however one interprets specific decisions like delaying withdrawal of U.S. forces from hot spot Mosul,  this statement of commitment merely reiterates the realist, delimited set of goals long articulated by candidate Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and foreign policy realists generally.

Here's Gates, April 10, 2008, to the Senate Arms Services Committee:

It was my hope 16 months ago that I could help forge a bipartisan path forward in our Iraq policy that would sustain a steadily lower, but still adequate and necessary, level of commitment for the years needed to yield an Iraq that is an ally against extremists and can govern and defend itself.

Indeed, Army Times, reporting this statement, wondered whether Gates was not defining success down:

the initial reaction to Gates’ statement from Democrats was a question about whether he was redefining success in Iraq —focusing only on Iraq’s ability to defend itself and serve as a U.S. ally against terrorists and extremists, and leaving out a long list of other stated goals that include economic and political development and an end to sectarian violence.

Here's Obama the very next day, in dialogue with Joint Chief Chairman Michael Mullen, articulating goals that differ from Gates' only in emphasis :

The problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

I see no incompatibility these year-old formulations by Obama and Gates and and Clinton's yesterday, which reiterated the planned drawdown on U.S. forces:

The end of the United States’ combat presence in Iraq by 2011 will mark the beginning of a new phase in our country’s relationship. As we draw down militarily, we will deepen our civilian cooperation in accordance with the strategic framework agreement. We will work on development and diplomatic initiatives and a regional agenda that includes border security and refugees.
A thousand difficult on-the-ground decisions about withdrawal remain, and it's not unreasonable to worry that a long series of decisions to delay will stunt the growth of Iraqi authority.  But Andrew has been growing ever more emphatic in forecasting that Iraq will implode as U.S. forces withdraw. Clinton's statement is alarming only if you're hopefully looking for signs that the Obama Administration is positioning itself to let the collapse happen if the alternative seems to be indefnitely delayed withdrawal.  Optimist, incrementalist and pragmatist, Obama is doubtless hoping to avoid that Hobson's choice. 

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