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Posted at 1:55 PM ET, 04/ 9/2008

Still no light at the end of the tunnel

By Michael Dobbs


Testifying to Congress, April 8, 2008.

"We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel."
--Gen. David Petraeus.

"The reality is, it is hard in Iraq. And there are no light switches to throw that are going to go dark to light."
--Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The semi-annual Congressional dog and pony show on Iraq provided the three remaining presidential candidates an opportunity to explain how they will clean up the mess left behind by George W. Bush, beginning in January 2009. In their different ways, John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama have all tried to convince American voters that their Iraq policy will produce peace with honor. All three candidates are spinning a very grim reality to make their preferred course of action seem easier and less painful than it actually is. Let us look at each of their positions in turn:

John McCain

As the sole Republican left in the race, McCain is the most committed to defending the policies of the Bush administration. His strategy amounts to "stay the course" until such time as there is an Iraqi government capable of maintaining basic security in the country. He has refused to say how long this might take, although he has talked about the possibility of a U.S. military presence in Iraq for another 50 or 100 years, perhaps longer.

A supporter of both the initial decision to invade Iraq and the "surge" of U.S. troops over the past year, McCain said yesterday that "success is within reach...perhaps sooner than many imagine." He defined success as "the establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state that poses no threats to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists." His optimism contrasted with the more realistic assessments of both Petraeus and Crocker who took care to distance themselves from Gen. Westmoreland type claims of "light at the end of the tunnel."

While McCain has signaled his determination to stay in Iraq as long as it takes, he has failed to explain how he will achieve his goal of a democratic, peaceful Iraq. He has muddled up Shiites and Sunnis on several occasions, raising questions about his grasp of the country's complicated ethnic politics. Eager to trumpet any evidence of progress, he hailed the Iraqi government's recent assault on Basra as a success, even though rebel Shiite militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr still control the city center. After initially praising the Iraqi military for performing "very well," he was forced to acknowledge yesterday that the result of the action had been a "disappointment."

Hillary Clinton

Clinton resisted setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for a long time, saying that it would be irresponsible to establish artificial target dates. Under the pressure of campaigning, she has now locked herself into a commitment to withdraw virtually all combat troops from the country by the end of 2009, at the rate of one or two combat brigades a month. According to her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, she will stick to this rigid timetable, irrespective of the advice she gets from her military commanders and no matter what the "realities on the ground."

The New York senator has said she will keep a very "limited" number of troops in Iraq to combat al-Qaeda. But she has failed to explain what she will do in the quite likely event of a big spurt in ethnic violence in Iraq following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Clinton campaign slammed Obama's former foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, for saying that it would be the "height of ideology" for a future president to insist on implementing campaign pledges on withdrawal without regard for the facts on the ground.

Clinton asked some pertinent questions at yesterday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services committee. She faulted the Bush administration for focusing attention on "the cost of leaving Iraq" while failing to take into account the even "greater cost" of remaining bogged down in the country, at a time when the U.S. faces numerous other challenges, both foreign and domestic. She correctly pointed out that the administration's standards for judging success or failure in Iraq were "vague" and "unclear," creating the possibility of an open-ended commitment. But she did not even attempt to provide a convincing rationale for her own alternative strategy.

Barack Obama

Unlike Clinton, Obama has a plan for dealing with a genocidal bloodbath in Iraq triggered by a withdrawal of U.S. troops. His plan may owe something to the influence of Power, whose book "The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" won the 2003 Pulitzer prize for non-fiction. Obama proposes stationing U.S. troops in a neighboring country, probably Kuwait, and sending them back into Iraq to stop a civil war from turning into a genocide.

Unfortunately, Obama's plan for dealing with an upsurge in violence in Iraq makes little sense and is fraught with contradictions. Why withdraw troops from the country under a rigid timetable (he has proposed a year to sixteen months) only to send them back in under less favorable circumstances? As McCain has unkindly pointed out, Obama's plan amounts to a promise to "reinvade" Iraq if, as is quite possible, things start to go disastrously wrong.

During this week's Congressional hearing, Obama said the U.S. should abandon the goal of building "a democratic, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, functioning democracy," and settle instead for "a messy, sloppy status quo" without "huge outbreaks of violence." Newsflash to the Land-of-Lincolner: whatever the Bush administration may say in public, the goal of transforming Iraq into a pro-western democratic showcase was abandoned a long time ago by the likes of Crocker and Petraeus. The problem, according to Crocker, is that even the "sloppy status quo" is not defendable at the moment, without the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops.

The Pinocchio Test

All three presidential candidates are much better at exposing the flaws in each other's Iraq strategy than explaining and defending their own policy. The truth is that there is no painless way out of the Iraq imbroglio. There are huge costs to staying in, and huge costs to getting out. In their attempts to gain electoral advantage, none of the three candidates has been entirely honest with the American people about the downsides of their particular exit strategy.

Rather than handing out more Pinocchios to the candidates, I will award a Geppetto checkmark to the general and the ambassador for the painful but honest conclusion that they have yet to spot any light at the end of the long Iraqi tunnel.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | April 9, 2008; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama, Candidate Watch, Geppetto's Checkmark, Iraq  
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Next: The Pot and the Kettle

Comments

Clinton and Obama are both for mass graves in Iraq ... Obama just plans on showing up sooner to count the bodies.

Posted by: Will | April 9, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: zxevil193 | April 9, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

It's so easy for those of us who are making judgments on those members of Congress running for the office of President. We have our favorites, thus find any spin we can put on the situation to make our claim who we think is best at solving this mess. It's obvious, giving Patraeus and Crocker the benefit of a doubt, that the situation in Iraq is not an easy task to resolve, as Crocker says, "It's hard".
McCain has his opinion, and agreeing with him or not, it's his opnion, as with Hillary and Obama. Remember, Bush was voted into office because it was believed he was right. But, many Americans feel now that he was not. Therefore, the next President, no matter who he is, has to make the decision, based on his commanders advice, what the next step should be.
What I heard from Obama's questions to these two gentlemen, is as President, whoever it may be, what soutions do we have to make to get out honorably? We now know it is not going to change soon, and surely not before the elections.
No matter who we support as President is going to find a hard task to make that decision, and still satisfy the American citizens who want resolution.
Clinton, McCain and Obama MUST be honest with the public, and inform us what their plans are, but we must remember, there are things we don't know and they don't know, that may change their positions once voted in that position.
One line comments towards any one of these nominees is unfair, and worthless. We need a serious conversation, based on fact, not just who we favor. This is serious business folks, and you better take it as such.

Posted by: RonG | April 9, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

First of all, Mr. Dobbs, the term you're looking for is "semi-annual" (twice per year or every six months), not "bi-annual" (once ever two years).

As far as applauding the Pat & Crock show for "seeing no light at the end of the tunnel", wasn't it the surge that was supposed to produce the light at the end of the tunnel? Were they forthright enough to admit that the surge has brought us no closer to exiting Iraq, no closer to a political solution, no closer to sustainable peace, and thus by the yardstick of its own proponents must be considered a failure? I think not. Four Pinocchios for Dobbs.

Posted by: Stonecreek | April 9, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps one line was too brief. I've seen the mass graves in Cambodia after we abandoned the fight in Indochina. I've heard much about the mass graves in the former Yugoslavia, where Mr. Clinton dithered and hedged before being shamed into sending forces. I've also heard much about the mass graves in Rwanda, where Mr. Clinton did nothing.

And now, much like in Indochina, we find ourselves responsible for loosing a chaotic civil war in nation riven with ethnic tensions. We promised democracy and freedom, but when it comes to hold true and fast, we decide it's too much effort.

We broke Iraq. We own it. We have to fix it before we can get rid of it. And if we just pull out, the mass graves will be our fault.

Posted by: Will | April 9, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Stonecreek,
Thanks for correcting me on semi-annual. I have changed it. On the substance, my Geppetto checkmark was limited to their acknowledgment that the light at the end of the tunnel is still not visible. I was not addressing the question of whether the surge has been a success or a failure, which is beyond the scope of this column.

Posted by: The Fact Checker | April 9, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Michael, while you are checking facts, what about this remarkable bit of revisionist history construction that has gone unnoticed by the media, when Gen. David Petraeus summarized the 8 brutal years of the Iran-Iraq war as follows: "Iraqi Shia died by the tens, by the hundreds of thousands, defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy"?

In his response to Sen. Boxer, Gen. P. seems to have forgotten that there was an Iraqi strongman named Saddam Hussein who, having gained total control in Iraq in 1979 (the same year in which the Iranian Revolution occurred) launched an attack against Iran in September, 1980. Saddam used the Algiers agreement of 1975 with the Shah, which halted Iranian support for the Kurds, as an opportunity to consolidate his power internally and to build up Iraq's military strength. He was able to invade Iran when it was most vulnerable, in the wake of the Islamic revolution, in an attempt to seize control of oil-rich Kuzistan,the westernmost region of Iran that is closest to Iraq. Iran turned down a UN call for a cease fire in the war because it did not require Iraq's withdrawal from Kuzistan. This was NOT a war launched by Persians against the identity of Iraqi Arab Shiites! Does Gen.Petraeus not understand this, or is he determined to rewrite history so as to justify the next war?

As for Iran funding Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia in Iraq, the Iranians had been financially supporting Saddam's opponents for decades, including the current Iraqi President Talebani, a Kurd. The Iranians have also supported and sheltered numerous Iraqi Shiite parties and personalities, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and even the "great white hope" of the neocons, Ahamad Chalabi!

(Until his fall at the hands of the U.S., Saddam funded Iranian opposition groups including Kurdish separatists and the Marxist-Islamist Mojahedi e-Kalkh (MEK), which is now under the protection of the US, despite its designation as a terrorist group by the US State Dept.)

Since the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Iranians have been hedging their bets and building support among various the Shiite parties and factions, including (but not limited to) those backed by the US.

Furthermore, quite early on, right after the US invasion when Moqtada al Sadr first made his presence felt, Iran recommended that the US allow Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites and of many Iranian Shiites as well, to deal with him and reign him in. The Iranians, who backed Sistani, tried to convince the US that it would be much more effective to deal with Moqtada Islamically rather than attempt to take him out by force of arms. This advice was not accepted or followed, and the results are readily apparent on the nightly news.

This is the answer to Barbara Boxer's question--why the Iranians are received in Iraq with kisses and hugs instead of roadside bombs, and why Iranian President Ahmadinejad receives a hero's welcome while US President Bush has to sneak in, hoping that no one will notice--that Petraeus dare not give, and the press dare not publish.

These are facts that no one else is writing about. I invite you to check them out.

Posted by: Profco | April 9, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse

As you can not do simple speeches or history please stay out of policy.

You can name it the BS checker but your first target should be the crap you write.

PR is going take take Obama down and thats a fact.

Posted by: mul | April 9, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Obama is not going down, for any reason. Some Clintonites seem utterly incapable of understanding the math. What it boils to, and what Hillary is openly gunning for, is this: Do the superdelegates have the gravitas to deny the will of the people and thus the first viable Black presidential candidate in American history? We all know the answer.

Posted by: gmundenat | April 9, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dobbs,
You seem to have missed half of the news. These hearings featured Patraeus and Crocker - soldier and diplomat. Yet you focus entirely on the military aspect.

It seems to me that Obama places a higher value on diplomacy than either of the other candidates, so it seems rather shallow for you to criticise his (or Power's) military analysis - without reference to the diplomacy backing it.

DC

Posted by: strum | April 10, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Should the U.S. continue to fund the Iraq War?

http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=2058


.

Posted by: Jeff, Austin TX | April 10, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

"The truth is that there is no painless way out of the Iraq imbroglio. There are huge costs to staying in, and huge costs to getting out." True enough generally, but no one is willing to draw the blunt conclusion: it is the Bush administration's doing that we are now trapped in Iraq, maybe catastrophically. He rushed in recklessly and is draining us militarily and financially to avoid accounting for the mistake. What part of this is not a 'high crime'?

Posted by: Peter, San Jose, CA | April 10, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Will,
ever think that we all just ached to get back into a Vietnam-type mess to see whether we could finally make it come out right? we quit once, huh? now's are chance to re-write history and prove we're not really quitters. Right?

Posted by: modifier, CA | April 10, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

"Unlike Clinton, Obama has a plan "

LMAO

You really need to stop sucking on Obama.

Posted by: Trey | April 10, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Will,

You would send the country down the tubes to prove a point?

You're kidding, right?

Posted by: jayne | April 10, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: cooltunesi4 | April 10, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"I was not addressing the question of whether the surge has been a success or a failure, which is beyond the scope of this column." -- Michael Dobbs

Really? Weren't the hearings supposed to be all about the efficacy of the current Iraq policy, a policy which centers on The Surge? Isn't your award of a check mark to Patreas and Crocker based on their statements relative to the current Iraq policy? Weren't their statements on "no light at the end of the tunnel" superceded by their support of keeping on doing the same thing that has produced no light at the end of the tunnel? So, they get credit for candor regarding the circumstances, but no demerit for total lack of candor regarding the policy which has created the circumstances? How is this logical? It is as if I said "Hitting your thumb with a hammer would hurt like hell", then proceeded to purposfully hit my thumb with a hammer and then said that yes, it hurts, but maybe it is for some other reason than the hammer. You are congratulating me for my honesty rather than critiquing me for my dunderheaded actions and illogic.

Posted by: Stonecreek | April 10, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Stonecreek..
You're on a roll..keep going..
I'm popping some popcorn..
You gotta admit MD...Stonecreek has a good point..

Posted by: goddesscon2001 | April 10, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: votenic | April 10, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

To a degree, you're right, but when there is no military solution - and clearly there isn't - should we bankrupt our country (which also has the side effect of throwing the entire world into recession) by staying there? We spend billions a day there, keep losing lives there, for what?

We are in a lesser of two evils mode, and getting out before our armed forces are completely and irreparably broken is the smartest choice.

Posted by: breaking and owning? | April 10, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Quote by Will:
"We broke Iraq. We own it. We have to fix it before we can get rid of it. And if we just pull out, the mass graves will be our fault."

I don't think *we* broke Iraq. If you're bush, or you're in Bush's administration or you voted for Bush or a congress person that supported the war. Then you are responsible for all the people that have died in this war and I imagine that is a tough cross to bear. But don't put this on everyone. Me and a lot of people like me spoke out against the war from the beginning, we protested against the war, we donated to anti-war candidates, we wrote letters to our congress people, and we we pleaded with people; tried to explain how every war is messy, how violence never creates easy solutions, it only makes death and pestilence, instability, and hatred. So don't you dare put responsibility for this travesty on us now that its gone sour. Its your fault not mine and I can hardly even articulate how angry it makes me when you try to say otherwise.

Posted by: Patrick | April 10, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

What is most unfortunate for all Americans, whether we support the US presence in Iraq or not, is that we will be paying for this war effort until the end of time. The Bush Administration cowboyed into this situation, and now we are STUCK.

What is even more discouraging, is the fact that one day Petraus and Bush want to convince America that "the surge is working" -- "our efforts have not been in vain"... and now the one liner is "no end to the tunnel".. talk about the doublespeak.

Bill Clinton was IMPEACHED by committing the HIGH CRIME of getting "special attention" and lying about it.

The current president has committed several atrocities against this country, and he walks free. What is wrong with this picture?

What is even more unfortunate is whomever is elected as President cannot offer any quick one-liner type response to resolve the issue at hand. And to even try to say in this column which candidate will handle the situation better than another -- that is just illogical.

There are so many major issues to be addressed by our next President its like walking into a minefield once they take office.

Posted by: IllinoisVoter | April 11, 2008 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Where is the fact check for the President's speech today?

Posted by: pmorlan | April 11, 2008 2:09 AM | Report abuse

Good idea!
P.S. A U realy girl?

Posted by: Memmorium | April 11, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Good call, Michael Dobbs. People say Petraeus whitewashes the progress, but he's always said there was no quick victory.

Although, I do question your wisdom in allowing the blatant spambot's comments to remain here.

Posted by: Simon | April 11, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

my pics

Posted by: mypicst | April 12, 2008 7:42 AM | Report abuse

@Stonecreek and Fact Checker,

My dictionary defines "biannual" as "occurring twice a year." Perhaps, Stonecreek, you have this word confused with "biennial," which indeed means once every other year.

There's a moral here somewhere.

Posted by: exregis | April 16, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

"As the sole Republican left in the race, McCain is the most committed to defending the policies of the Bush administration"...Ron Paul is still in the race, and has top ballot position in the upcoming PA primaries. He is the only candidate worthy of my support, as well as the only one who would really put an end to the Iraq quagmire.

Posted by: Geturfactstraight | April 16, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Are Jews the reincarnation of modern day KKK?

The powerful rightwing Jewish Lobby including [AIPAC] American Israel Public Affairs Committee is vexed, frustrated and displeased with Barack Obama's refusal to accept special interest money. The concern is that the Senator's policy prevents them from exerting influence or extracting favor from his administration should he become the next President. Senator Obama has offered his assurance to Jews that he is not a foe- yet this does not seem to allay their resistance to his candidacy.

Hillary Clinton's campaign saw an opening to exploit the Jewish community's apprehension and began stoking the anti-Obama fire behind the scenes. In collaboration with the Clintons, they [the Jewish Lobby] dispatched a number of "candidacy assassinators" including former Clinton special counsel, Lanny Davis, Florida congress woman, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, California congress man, Brad Sherman, CNN news anchor, Wolfe Blitzer, Senator Joseph Lieberman and others to torpedo Obama's nomination bid. The above mentioned Jews continue to fan the flame of hateful passions against the Illinois Senator using demagoguery and pushing the Reverend Wright issue so that it remains in the foreground. The strategy is to convince the voters and the Democratic Super Delegates that Obama would be unelectable in November due to his optics and simultaneously promote Hillary as the only friend of Israel. It is also reported that Democratic Jews are being counseled to vote for John McCain- should Senator Clinton not get the nomination.

Take a look at the YouTube video where Rachel Maddow from Air America recently discussed the topic on her show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdYzGzvXO0U

Civil Rights and black organizations have dubbed the Jewish Lobby's anti Obama campaign, "mean spirited" but so far have opted to remain tentative. Elected Democrats have also taken note and are increasingly becoming frustrated with Senator Clinton's controversial tactics. They are appalled with her alliance to hawkish groups including John McCain to annihilate a democratic colleague and worry that it provides damaging ammunition to the republicans that could derail Obama's candidacy should he become the nominee. Some Democrats are even calling the conduct treacherous and privately accuse her of deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic Party because of the unlikely odds of her fairly winning the nomination. The question is- who is willing to bell the Cat? Thus far, a healthy concern for political reprisal has prevented any of the party leaders from offering any public criticism. The Jewish Lobby for decades has effectively manipulated the holocaust to keep politicians beholden to their agenda. Those who oppose are usually labeled anti-Israel or Bigots in order to gain their compliance. In this instance, however, they run the risk of having the tables turned against them if blacks are able to expose hypocrisy in what many view to be a Jewish lynching of Senator Obama.


Posted by: mia | April 16, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

U need antivirus?

Posted by: antivirkaspersky7 | April 25, 2008 7:16 AM | Report abuse

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