By early 2007, it was clear to almost everyone that a change of course was required in Iraq. John McCain proposed the same change he’d been advocating for several years — a surge in forces coupled with the use of certain counter-insurgency tactics.
Both members of the Democratic ticket called for change as well, though their prescriptions differed. Barack Obama called, in essence, for giving up — a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to begin immediately. Joe Biden called for the partition of Iraq into three parts.
Fortunately, the administration adopted the approach advocated by McCain. By rejecting Obama’s approach, we avoided defeat, dealt a defeat to al Qaeda, avoided a bloodbath, and preserved a fledgling democracy in the heart of the Middle East.
The consequences of adopting Biden’s approach may have been less dire (he is, remember, the adult on the ticket). At a minimum, however, the Sunni and Kurdish presence in a unified Iraqi government has, most likely, helped prevent Iran from becoming dominant in significant portions of Iraq.
It was far from clear in early 2007 what the correct approach to salvaging the situation in Iraq was. Thus, although it speaks rather poorly of Obama that he was so prepared to accept defeat and destruction, there is no dishonor in having been wrong at that time. But we are picking a new president now, and the fact that McCain got the big issue of the last four years right should weigh heavily in his favor.
UPDATE: Obama’s supporters would argue that their man was right on the big issue of the previous four years, namely whether to go to war in the first place. Now that success seems to be within reach in Iraq, I find that argument unpersuasive, but many will disagree with me.
Note, however, that Biden voted in favor of the war, so Obama clearly does not believe that a vote for the war in 2003 undermines one’s fitness for the presidency. Perhaps Obama recognized that, unlike himself, Biden actually was part of the decisionmaking process, and not a minor local figure seeking to endear himself to the left for purposes of gaining the Democratic Senate nomination in a very liberal jurisdiction.
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