That Was Counterterrorism, Senator
Presidential Candidate Obama’s statements in and about Iraq in the past 24 hours have been nothing less than shameless and disgraceful. While we strive to avoid political discussion at ThreatsWatch, criticism of his words transcends rank political partisanship if for no other reason than his claims are simply and flatly untrue, made in a war zone, during a time of war and while running to become the Commander in Chief of US Military Forces. This simply cannot stand unchallenged.
Not only does Senator Obama apparently think the Anbar Awakening and the Shi’a militia stand-downs that have occurred are somehow separate developments from the surge, which is a remarkable feat of logic in and of itself, but he is implying that they are part and parcel indigenous to what his ‘plan’ for ‘political progress’ would have afforded.
In an interview on ABC World News Tonight last night (Partial transcript here, at bottom), Senator Obama said that, even knowing what he knows now, he would not support ‘The Surge’ if he had it do do over again. No matter our success, shared among Iraqis and American troops. In order to shore his position, he cheapens the Anbar Salvation Council (as it was known in September 2006, perhaps long before the senator knew who they were) as a mere “political factor.”
I think that, I did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shiiâ€™a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.
Of course he didn’t anticipate it. He probably had no idea who they were and is still demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of counterinsurgency.
I would remind the candidate that the Anbar Salvation Council (which later grew exponentially and developed into al-Sahwa al-Iraq - the Iraq Awakening) started with one man, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu al-Risha, and seventy men fighting al-Qaeda in defense of their families, not in pursuit of a ‘political’ anything. They simply wanted to live and end al-Qaeda’s assassination and murdering spree against their families and tribe. Sheikh Abdul Sattar, later assassinated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, had seen 10 family members, including 4 brothers, killed by al-Qaeda for their cooperation with US forces. He had had enough.
Obama’s plan - unoriginal and pieced together like a quilt from others against the Iraq war - was entirely Baghdad-centric, about laws and revenue sharing and conferences. The Anbar Awakening had nothing to do with Baghdad when they began and when they turned the neighborhood tides in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar province. It was about killing the terrorists before the terrorists killed them. One must, after all, live to ultimately see progress on any scale beyond one’s neighborhoods.
Obama wanted laws written, press conferences, and an immediate pull back of US troops. As Senator Chuck Schumer so brilliantly said at the time about ‘the plan,’ US forces were to withdraw post-haste to the periphery “in more of a counterterrorism role.” This would have abandoned the Anbar Salvation Council - and Anbar Sunnis and Shi’a alike - entirely. It would have been feeding them to the bloodthirsty wolves of al-Qaeda so that domestic American political figures could champion themselves as ‘ending a war’ and conducting business “in more of a counterterrorism role.”
This is precisely what I tried to scream when I wrote “This Is Counterterrorism, Senator” over a year ago for National Review Online. And winning the counterinsurgency is about aligning a population with us. Neither of these, counterterrorism nor counterinsurgency, could have been successfully addressed by ‘The Plan’ put forth by Obama and others in opposition to The Surge. The Surge was all about protecting the population within their own neighborhoods, while ‘The Plan’ was about abandoning said population to complete animals unassisted. Yet Obama - and surely others - would oppose it all over again.
The Iraqis have done what they have done for themselves in spite of the likes of Obama, Schumer, Pelosi and all the rest. What’s more, now that The Surge has accomplished much of what it set out to do to help the Iraqis - again in spite of Obama, Schumer, Pelosi and the rest - a presidential candidate who opposed the surge, would still oppose The Surge and had absolutely no clue about the Anbar Salvation Council when it was pleading and begging for US support (since at least September of 2006) wants to champion their success as somehow his brainchild and a sign of the political development he envisioned?
One is left to suppose that he overlooks the fact that so many in Anbar and throughout Iraq are alive in spite of attempts to push such a sacrificial ‘Plan.’ There’s no other way to describe it. Dead people - crucified, baked and beheaded - do not live to contribute to ‘political progress.’ Sheikh Abdul Sattar - and today, his brother Sheikh Ahmed al-Rishawi - understood this. Too many Americans seem flip to dismiss this comfortably from afar.
The Anbar Salvation Council didn’t have a damn thing to do with political resolution. It needed to simply survive first; family by family, town by town, tribe by tribe. The movement that eventually saved Iraq laid ignored and unsupported until General David Petraeus changed that when he arrived to command The Surge that Obama said he would still oppose.
Obama’s (et al) ‘plan’ and ‘political’ demands would have fed them to the wolves, slaughtered with their families while we were to have breathed a sigh of relief that the war was finally over. Funny thing about the Iraqis: They want to live, no matter what our politicians profess.
Today’s remarks simply could not be left to stand unchallenged.
Update: It is perhaps illustrative that Senator Obama met with Iraq Awakening leader Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi and no one in our own media asked al-Rishawi a single question. Don’t Call Us - We’ll Call You, Al-Rishawi, or so it seems. Al-Arabiya called him. Transcript at the link.