Two months from now, Barack Obama will be inaugurated, having promised to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months:
Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 – more than 7 years after the war began.
Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism.
I’ve been skeptical about whether Obama would follow through on this promise ever since I learned in April that Colin Kahl, the man Obama put in charge of his working group on Iraq, was secretly recommending that the U.S. leave 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq at least through the end of 2010.
As of June, Kahl was still Obama’s leading adviser on Iraq, and he co-authored a report advocating that “a large contingent of American forces [remain] in Iraq for several years”.
Now Obama is leaning toward leaving Robert Gates in charge of the Department of Defense for some time. In the best-case scenario, Gates would oversee the phased withdrawal of troops over a 16-month period, and then Obama would put someone else in charge of the DOD. On the other hand, it seems plausible that someone George W. Bush trusted to enact his Iraq policy might strongly advise the new president to back off from his planned timetable.
Consider Obama’s reported choice of General Jim Jones as national security adviser. Does it seem likely that this man, who backed John McCain for president, would encourage Obama to get us out of Iraq as quickly as we could safely do so?
The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, reported over the weekend,
There is growing concern among a new generation of anti-war foreign policy analysts in Washington, many of whom stuck their necks out to support Mr Obama early in the White House race, that they will be frozen out of his administration.
Mrs Clinton is expected to appoint her own top team at the State Department, drawn from more conservative thinkers.
A Democratic foreign policy expert told one Washington website: “They were the ones courageous enough to stand up early against Iraq, which is why many supported Obama in the first place.” Their fear, he added, is that they will not now secure the mid-level posts which will enable them to reach the top of the Washington career ladder in future.
Although I never thought Obama and Clinton were very different on Iraq or other policy matters, I feel sorry for the policy wonks who supported Obama because they thought he would be better on Iraq.
As Al Giordano recently reminded us, these people took a big risk for Obama:
Way back in ancient times – I’m talking about 2007 – the most difficult place to be a supporter of then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid was inside the Washington DC beltway. […]
If you were a Democrat in or around DC and backed Obama for president you were a pariah, shunned, no longer invited to the cocktail parties or policy panels. And no small number of Clinton bandwagoneers would take every chance to remind you that, once the White House had been reconquered, you would be screwed to the wall, and viciously so.
I have no contacts in DC, but this account has the ring of truth for me. I remember one particularly obnoxious Clinton supporter who used to comment at MyDD regularly during 2007. When Hillary’s nomination seemed inevitable, he would brag about his Washington connections and how after she wrapped things up on Super Tuesday, hellfire would rain down on certain people who had supported Obama for president.
I am not opposed to Clinton as secretary of state, but I think Obama owes something to the people who were there for him early on because (they thought) he was a strong opponent of the Iraq War.
For me, the most shocking part of the Telegraph story was this:
Suspicion of Mr Obama’s moves has been compounded, for some liberals, by the revelation that Mr Obama has for several months been taking advice from Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush.
Scowcroft? I know a lot of Democrats would be happy to see Obama serve out Bill Clinton’s third term, but I’m pretty sure none of them voted for Obama so that he could serve out Poppy Bush’s second term.
The Wall Street Journal confirms the connections between Obama and Scowcroft:
Many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft, a former national-security adviser turned public critic of the Bush White House.
Mr. Scowcroft spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama last week, the latest in a months-long series of conversations between the two men about defense and foreign-policy issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The relationship between the president-elect and the Republican heavyweight suggests that Mr. Scowcroft’s views, which place a premium on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, might hold sway in the Obama White House.
Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see Obama pick up the Israeli-Palesstinian peace process, and I am aware that Scowcroft has criticized George W. Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq.
Still, it seems unjust for Obama to get elected on the promise of big change and then turn around an appoint a bunch of Scowcroft’s buddies to his foreign policy shop–especially if the foreign policy experts who were there for Obama early on are left out in the cold.
I would love to be proved wrong, but I am finding it hard to believe that the American military presence in Iraq will be down to a small residual force 18 months from now.
Your thoughts and rebuttals are welcome in the comments.