Obama’s Hagel-Brzezinski Plan for Iraq


hagel biden levin twn.jpg
Barack Obama has an important op-ed today in the New York Times titled “My Plan for Iraq.”
It’s a useful portal into the current thinking in ObamaLand on America’s Iraq policy and continues to emphasize both his opposition in 2002 to the Iraq War and his intention to “end the conflict.”

Bringing conflict to a close does not necessarily mean withdrawing all troops, but my hope is that he does not get seduced into thinking that a largish residual, remaining force (say of 60,000 to 80,000 troops) would be seen by locals as anything other than a continued occupation.
What I like most about Obama’s framing of his position is that he conveys an appreciation of the interconnectedness of the Iraq War to other challenges. He correctly points out that America’s invasion of Iraq harmed our legitimate efforts against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And the fatigue of our military superstructure today is making a more focused effort on Taliban and Al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan ever more difficult.
It would be helpful if Obama — like his traveling partner Chuck Hagel does frequently — articulates an understanding that shows how the Israeli/Palestinian divide is also part of this regional mess that too many foreign policy pundits (and many in the McCain camp) wrongly silo into distinct and unrelated hot spots. But even without this, Obama’s framing shows positive progress in his strategic thinking.
Obama is also in touch with the costs of the war — 4,000 American deaths and nearly $1 trillion. I’d wish he would also mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have died and the many other non-death casualties among American troops. But still, Obama doesn’t deny the costs and appropriately points out that this came from “invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.” As Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass has said many times, Iraq was for America a “war of choice.” Obama agrees and thinks we should never have gone in and, for the most part, believes we need to get out.
But I am buoyed by Obama’s embrace of the Maliki government’s call for a “timetable for withdrawal” that links to increasing Iraqi competence managing its own course. Such a withdrawal plan would be connected to the kind of Bonn Conference-like convenings of internal and regional political stakeholders that former Ambassador James Dobbins achieved with the Iranians and other stakeholders in stabilizing (in 2002) post-invasion Afghanistan.
This is exactly the kind of approach that Zbigniew Brzezinski has long called for — the announcement of a phased withdrawal connected to key negotiations among internal and external players. Chuck Hagel has long been calling for a similar kind of approach — though with greater specificity than Obama and with more discussion of the regional ecosystem.
Obama is showing some Hagel/Brezinskiesque realism, and that is an excellent thing.
I remain uneasy about Obama’s views on a “residual force”. The scale of troops that one of his advisors, Colin Kahl (a friend), recently alluded to was nearly equal to the number of troops America has left deployed in Japan and South Korea for five decades. That’s not “residual” or “minor”. That’s big — and if left deployed in Iraq would not change any of the fundamental substantive problems that exist today with large deployments.
Fortunately, Obama in his essay actually states that he doesn’t want anything like the character of deployments America has maintained in South Korea. This is excellent and commendable — a great step in conveying an understanding of the benchmarks and trade-offs involved with ending the Iraq War.
There is much more that Obama should share with us on his views on how to move America to a different equilibrium in the Middle East — but his oped today and his \ to Iraq with Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) are confidence-builders.
— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Obama’s Hagel-Brzezinski Plan for Iraq

  1. Kathleen says:

    The MSM and the Democrap Followship have adopted the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil Policy for Iraq, Accountability, Civil Liberties.. remember that quaint old term?
    We should just accept one of the many Iraqi Proposed Peace Plans, shake hands, and withdraw. Congress should adopt HR1234, which calls for replacing our troops with UN Peacekeepers during the withdrawal phase.
    But, without the damned oil bill we want the Iraqi Parliament to pass, we’ll just have to admit what everyone knows, that we are occupiers….pirates.


  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Steve, regarding the size of a “residual force”, I just thought this
    quote from an article by Pepe Escobar at the Asia Times Online
    might be relevant – perhaps even revealing:
    “Obama in fact may have given away his true position in April,
    during General David Petraeus’ US Senate hearings. That’s when
    Obama, face to face, asked Petraeus, the head US military man
    in Iraq, a truly revealing question – ignored by US corporate
    “When you have finite resources you have got to define your
    goals tightly and modestly … you don’t necessarily have to
    answer this, maybe this is a rhetorical question. If we are able
    to have the status quo in Iraq right now without US troops,
    would that be a sufficient definition of success? It’s obviously
    not perfect, there is still violence, there are still traces of al-
    Qaeda, Iran has influence more than we would like, but if we
    have the current status quo and yet our troops have been
    brought down to 30,000, would you consider that as success,
    would that meet our criteria or would that not be good enough
    and we have to devote even more resources to it?” ”


  3. kotzabasis says:

    The sweetest wish you could give me.


  4. Tahoe Editor says:

    “His Op-Ed states the obvious and caters to anyone” is pretty spot-on.
    When BO is criticized for “X”, “X” becomes a “distraction.”
    You’ve got the lingo down.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, Kotz, in case you haven’t noticed the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating. Another fine “mission accomplished”, eh?
    Pakistan, our “ally” in the…ta daaaa….”Global war on Terrorism”, is certainly acting like an “ally”, aren’t they?
    The ACLU, which monitors the “terrorist watch list”, has noted it now numbers over one million. Borders wide open, recent report that our nuclear storage facilities are still woefully insecure, cargo holds on aircraft still unprotected, hundreds of thousands of shipping containers uninspected….
    But hey, we have a million people on our watchlist. So much for this fuckin’ “if you have nothing to hide” mantra, eh?
    Yep Kotz, we have every reason in the world to pay attention to your pseudo-patriotic horseshit, don’t we?? I mean after all, look how well things have gone now for eight years. “Mission accomplished”, “dead or alive”, “last throes”, “the march of democracy”. There are simply too many pearls of wisdom to list here, mouthed by our illustrous and competent leaders. Oops, almost forgot this one; “Go fuck yourself”.


  6. Ed says:

    Barack supporter here. His Op-Ed states the obvious and caters to anyone who wants an end to the Iraq mess and wants us out. I don’t think there’s enough detail here, but I guess you can only fit so much in an NYT op-ed piece.
    One problem that I do have; he says
    “…a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.”
    I’m skeptical that a residual force would do any good. That’s like saying the Soviets should have left a residual force in Afghanistan when they withdrew in 1980. I predict that AQI (as this administration likes to call them) would probably wreak havoc on a country with a very weak government and security force. I agree with Steve’s notion that a residual force (which would need to be sizeable in order to be effective) would still be perceived as occupation by the Iraqis.
    Unfortunately, there is the part of me that says, “Not my problem.” We have more pressing problems here at home that need to be addressed, and at this point Iraq War has become a distraction. I know that this POV will draw a lot of fire, but let’s be honest… this is what the average Joe on the street is thinking.


  7. kotzabasis says:

    Obama is no leader but a pretender! The sentence in the first paragraph of his article in the NT says it all. “The phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated,” which he trumpeted before the surge he continues to consider as being wise in conditions when the surge has been successful in subduing the insurgency and decisively defeating al Qaeda in Iraq (his goal), and the Iraqi government meeting 13 out of the 15 preconditions of Congress.
    Further he fabricates a grand fiction when he states that “nearly every threat we face-has grown.” If this was true one would have expected that America would have been attacked at least once since 9/11. And he distorts the real goal of the surge which was to win the war, and inevitably that would involve some strain in military terms, and not because, the reason why he opposed the surge, it would not ease “the strain on our military.” Did Obama expect to win a war without strain?
    Obama’s op-ed is redolent with hypocrisy and cant to justify his pro-surge position, and to transpose this position in the new situation of a victorious war in Iraq as continuing to be politically and strategically viable is laughable. It is no less than the attempt of someone to resuscitate a dead carcass which unceremoniously is fit for burial and give it a second life in the overwhelming liveliness of victory.


  8. Tahoe Editor says:

    We’d need The Weekly Standard to do it.


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Does the New Yorker plan to be fair and run a cartoon of Bush wiping his ass with our Constitution?
    Hmmm, come to think of it, probably not, for it isn’t satirical.


  10. Beth in VA says:

    It was a very good op-ed, and I hope it becomes part of the general discussion of Iraq within the media and the populace. Hagel’s correct to connect the Israel/Palestinian situation, as well as the Afghanistan situation, in with Iraq.
    I read that Obama plans to go to the West Bank on his upcoming trip–a very good sign.


  11. Tahoe Editor says:

    In your high-fear/low-trust vs. high-trust/low-fear paradigm, how does “Nearly every threat we face has grown” sit?


  12. Tahoe Editor says:

    The New Yorker cover was created for and by the folks who live here:
    Obama is rightly annoyed at this image. He’d be smarter to ignore it altogether. All it does is bring us back here:


  13. Debama says:

    Obama pushed all the right buttons to win the Democratic nomination and is now getting down to the practical business of showing the people who really run the empire that he’ll be a better manager of their interests than McCain. For a while there he was suitably inspiring, but his FISA vote showed who he’s really looking out for (Senators have to vote sometime). He’ll prove equally “traditional” on other issues, whether it’s withdrawing from Iraq (Steve says “my hope is that he does not get seduced into thinking that a largish residual, remaining force…” yes, it’s all about hope, Steve.) or shifting the beloved War Machine to another, different, drawn out, costly and unwinnable war (this time, at last, against the “real threat”, those terrible bearded fellows running around mountains in Afghanistan, and coming soon to shopping mall near you). Naturally, controlling Iraq’s oil or Saudi Arabia’s oil or Central Asia’s gas has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with any of this, it’s just Dubya got some bad intelligence and did a silly thing and “when I’m president we’re going to correct that.”
    PS: This New Yorker cover “scandal” is hilarious. Obviously it’s satirical and obviously it’s sympathetic to Obama (it’s about “The Politics of Fear” ferkryssakes), and obviously Obama’s camp thinks voters are too stupid to get it.
    PS.PS: And expect some Obama trooper to pass through here soon praising the great man for “talking to us like adults” (meaning “like idiots”).


  14. Carroll says:

    Chuck and Ziggie being on Obama’s team give me hope but we will have to wait and see how he handles the Isr-Pal issue considering his bowing and scraping to the Lobby.
    For anyone who hasn’t seen the Obama picture on the NY cover here it is. It shows Obama dressed as a Muslim and his wife as a terrorist.
    David Remmick the editor says the cover is meant to satirize the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election to derail Obama.
    I dont’ think I buy that. Remmick’s motivations are suspect anyway considering his hysterics over the W&M’s Israel Lobby book. Imagine the outcry if a cartoon picture of Lieberman back in the 2002 race had been a cover picture of him as a Jew with huge hook nose and Star of David on his chest picking the pocket of the US treasury and hoisting a Israeli flag over the WH.
    This is just as slezzy and we all know what it was meant to do. A picture is worth a thousand words and the New Yorker knows it.


  15. Tahoe Editor says:

    A Cog in the Chicago Machine


  16. Arun says:

    Help – who are the people behind Obama? I mean in the sense that the Project for the New American Century folks were lurking behind Bush, and in 2000, I for one was not aware of them.
    So again, who are the people behind Obama?
    Thanks in advance!


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