President Obama hasn’t had much to brag about lately. So today he bragged about bringing troops home from Iraq and ending combat missions there:
By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office; more than 90,000.
Politico calls this the first step of a victory lap on the war in Iraq. Whether there will be a victory to correspond with the lap remains in doubt. July was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008, with 535 people killed and more than 1,000 wounded, and Iraq has been unable to form a government in the five months since its parliamentary elections. [note: original post said six months]
But if there is a victory (or even just an absence of civil war) it will be down to the Iraq surge that President Bush instituted and Senator Obama vehemently opposed. For that matter, as Politico acknowledges, it was Bush who, for better or for worse, instituted the troop withdrawal policy for which Obama today took credit.
Finally, it is to Bush’s team that the Obama administration is now turning to attempt to preserve the success brought about through Bush’s surge. In response to the inability of Iraq’s political class to form a government, and the resulting jump in violence, Brett McGurk, Bush’s point man on Iraq policy at the time of the surge, is now in Baghdad advising U.S. officials. Moreover, Sadi Othman, described by the Washington Post as General Petraeus’s “main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge,” has been asked to return. And Ali Khedery who was an adviser to Ryan Crocker, the Bush administration’s ambassador to Iraq, will work temporarily for James Jeffrey, the next ambassador [and a key member of Bush’s Iraq team, see update below].
Jeffrey will replace Chris Hill, Obama’s odd selection to be ambassador. Hill had never served in the Middle East and he did not serve with distinction in Iraq. Rather, as Max Boot says, he “took a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.” The fruits of that attitude have been bitter.
It is far from clear that Bush’s Baghdad “Dream Team” (Boot’s phrase) can repeat its past success in the context of an ever-diminishing U.S. military presence. If it cannot, Obama’s “first step” in his “victory lap” might be his last.
In any case, it’s telling that Obama is relying just about entirely on Bush era policies and personnel as he tries to find something in the world to brag about.
UPDATE: A reader who served in the State Department during the Bush administration points out that James Jeffrey, the new ambassador to Iraq, was also a key part of Bush’s Iraq team. After serving in Iraq as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Bagdad, he returned to Washington where Secretary Rice named him as her Special Advisor on Iraq. Later, he became Bush’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the implementation of the surge.