Obama... Naive or Deliberately Deceptive?
September 27, 2008BackTalk Blog...)
Either that, or he is deliberately deceptive. I hope it is the latter.
This does not mean that his performance in last night's debate was politically ineffective. Never forget that in presidential debates, as amazing as it might seem, style is what mostly matters to the American people. Stylistically, Obama did a fine job of creating the impression that he is someone other than his long history suggests he is. And that's good for him. Substantively, however, McCain simply cleaned Obama's clock and showed that the junior senator from Illinois is dangerously unprepared to be our next commander in chief. I wish that mattered to the viewing audience, but history suggests that it will not. To most Americans, it's all about style. Thus, we probably won't see any major shift in the polls as a result of last night's debate, and I cannot even predict the direction of any minor shift that might occur.
Overall, it was a fine debate, and both did well in terms of achieving their political objectives. And the moderator (Jim Lehrer) was simply outstanding.
Although it does not matter all that much to the voting public, substance does matter to me, so that's what I'll focus on. On the Iraq war, Obama was at his best when he said:
And so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
This made me wonder if Obama believed that the Iraqis did not have WMDs or if he instead believed that we should not invade even though he thought they did. Based on the one anti-war speech that might catapult him all the way to the presidency, I conclude that Obama thought that Iraq had WMDs:
Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
And Saddam Hussein is the man who would be in charge today had we not invaded. Under that scenario, he would not be sitting on his hands watching his mortal enemy -- Iran -- develop a nuclear bomb. Obviously, after our troops were gone, Saddam would get on with developing the WMDs that he wanted the world to believe that he already possessed. Perhaps ensuring that this scenario became a reality reflects profoundly excellent judgment on Obama's part, but that's not obvious to me. Still, it is clearly debatable, and the fact that Obama opposed the invasion is certainly not what makes him dangerously naive.
The whole problem with Obama's judgment is that he thought made great sense, once Osama bin Laden decided to make Iraq the central front in the war on terror, to accept defeat in Iraq. That is, after opposing the invasion, Obama's next big idea was to withdraw our troops and hand al Qaeda the glorious victory it sought in Iraq. Fortunately, and no thanks to Obama, al Qaeda has been crushed in Iraq, and their reputation throughout the Muslim world has been greatly diminished, not enhanced. Thus, I was surprised to hear Obama say this:
And I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that's not the case. We've spent over $600 billion so far, soon to be $1 trillion. We have lost over 4,000 lives. We have seen 30,000 wounded, and most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective, al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.
He was apparently referring to this article:
Government report: Al Qaeda strongest since September 11, 2001
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Al Qaeda is the strongest it has been since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a new U.S. government analysis concludes, according to a senior government official who has seen it.
Some unnamed senior government official who says he has seen the report makes this claim, and that's good enough for Obama. It gives him cover to make a misleading claim, but it is a seriously flawed assessment because it glosses over a critical detail: what would al Qaeda's position be today had we abandoned Iraq at the height of al-Qaeda-induced sectarian violence there (as Obama proposed that we do)? Obviously, they would be very much stronger than they are today. Also, al Qaeda's strength, whatever it might be, derives from its safe havens in Pakistan, which was also noted in the article:
"We actually see the al Qaeda central being resurgent in their role in planning operations," John Kringen, head of the CIA's intelligence directorate, testified at the hearing Wednesday. "They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan there. We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications."
Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence, told lawmakers that al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan are able to maintain relationships "with affiliates throughout the Middle East, North and East Africa and Europe."
And this fact brings up the complete non sequitur that an enthralled media allows Obama to get away with every time (and will do so again now): Because al Qaeda's safe havens are inside Pakistan, how will withdrawing our troops from Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban serve to defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan? There is no reasonable answer to this question, which is why Obama constantly blurs the critical distinction between Afghanistan (where the Taliban are fighting with the help of some al Qaeda field commanders) and Pakistan (where al Qaeda's leaders are and where al Qaeda has established those safe havens). Only by blurring that distinction can one create the false impression that pulling troops from Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan is a way to directly confront a resurgent al Qaeda. From the debate last night, watch Obama make this misleading move:
OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.
Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan.
We hadn't caught bin Laden. We hadn't put al Qaeda to rest, and as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction. Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.
But we can't do it if we are not willing to give Iraq back its country. Now, what I've said is we should end this war responsibly. We should do it in phases. But in 16 months we should be able to reduce our combat troops, put -- provide some relief to military families and our troops and bolster our efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.
That's the misleading move. Completely, 100% misleading. Let me emphasize the key point, one that is not debatable: because there are no al Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, sending more troops to Afghanistan will not help us to capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda (because bin Laden and al Qaeda's safe havens are inside Pakistan). There is nothing complicated about this.
Let me further illustrate how cleverly deceiving Obama can be:
And right now, the commanders in Afghanistan, as well as Admiral Mullen, have acknowledged that we don't have enough troops to deal with Afghanistan because we still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the surge.
All true. The Taliban are fighting more effectively these days, and I assume that's because they now have some al Qaeda field commanders helping them out. Defeating them is a priority, and we need more troops to do that, but this has nothing to do with capturing and killing bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda in Pakistan. That's the point that no one appreciates (not Barack Obama or those who are enthralled by the man).
So I would send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan. Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in, but we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan.
But how is that going to help you to kill Osama bin Laden (in Pakistan) and crush their safe havens (in Pakistan)? He does not say because he wants Americans to believe that Afghanistan is where al Qaeda is resurgent.
Obama does mention Pakistan as well, and does say that al Qaeda is there, but it is his attempt to create the false impression that al Qaeda is resurgent in Afghanistan that I object to. He needs to create that false impression so that it will seem to make sense to say that sending more troops to Afghanistan will help to kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.
I have never seen any mainstream media reporter address this glaringly obvious problem with Obama's reasoning, so I assume that reporters are as ignorant of the relevant facts as Barack Obama appears to be. The one exception, and it is an important one, is the editorial board of the Washington Post. In an editorial two months ago, they said about Obama:
He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.
As they point out, "...there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered." Glaringly obvious, but top secret (except for on this blog and in that one single editorial). Creepy.