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July 23, 2008

That Wacky, Wacky Washington Post Editorial Board
Posted by Michael Cohen

The slavish support of the Washington Post editorial board for the war in Iraq is not a new phenomenon, but today's editorial about Obama's trip to Iraq is a particularly egregious and pathetic example. The Post alleges:

"It seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy."

Well indeed this would be a worthwhile point if the above statement was either true or relevant. It is neither.

First the Post argues, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki's timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama's."

This is just sad. First of all, identify me a politician who doesn't tailor public statement for political purposes. The Post Editorial Board might want to walk out of their offices and take a gander over at 1600 Pennsylvania for another example of individuals who engage in such behavior.

But the Post is either misinformed or obfuscating about the statements of Iraqis leaders regarding Obama's plan. Here is Maliki in Der Spiegel:

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes"

Here's the Iraqi national security advisor, Ali al-Dabbagh:

Iraq's government spokesman is hopeful that U.S. combat forces could be out of the country by 2010.

Ali al-Dabbagh made the comments following a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day.


And what is the Post's basis for arguing that the Iraqis want troops out by the end of 2010? As near as I can tell it is this quote from Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi

"I'd be happy if we reach an agreement to say, for instance, the 31st of December 2010" would mark the departure of the last U.S. combat unit.

For instance! They are basing their attack on Obama on a "for instance!" Criminy!

Why is the Post even arguing this point - even if you buy the somewhat silly notion that the Iraqis want US troops out by the end of 2010 and Obama wants them out in the middle of 2010, who cares? Clearly the Iraqis and Obama are on the same page and John McCain who is calling for US troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years is not. Maybe the Post could engage on that question.

But this is easy pickings. Here is the Post's argument that really ticks me off, their notion that we shouldn't leave Iraq because the military doesn't agree:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."

Forgive me for saying, but why is this relevant? Any President should certainly welcome the view of military leaders but ultimately David Petraeus works for the President (chain of command, baby) and when the President tells him to do something, he does it. End of discussion. The President's job is to set policy and the military's job is to implement it. If a President Obama decides that it is in US interests for American troops to be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan Petraeus can make his concerns know, but ultimately his job is to salute and do what he is ordered to do.

Over the past few years we've become inured to the notion that our military leaders are the ones driving our political decisions on the war on terror, but of course this is exactly backwards and undermines the very notion of civilian leadership of the military.

Finally, what's most maddening about the quote from Obama above is that he was not saying these words to show that the military disagrees with his plan, but instead that he will be flexible in implementing his withdrawal plan based on what he hears from the military. Isn't that the kind of approach that we want from our political leaders?

You know if I didn't know any better one would think that the Washington Post is basing their editorials on cherry-picked information and is ignoring key underlying realities. Hmm, that does sound familiar.


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