Obama blew his chance on surge

We have just witnessed a rare happening in the political galaxy when the stars and the moons — the facts and the politics — line up perfectly. So perfectly, that a politician who made a wrong prediction or assertion can take the high road and still come out better than ever.

Sen. Barack Obama had everything lined up just right on this matter of The Surge in Iraq and his timetable for getting out of Iraq.

But he blew it. Blew his chance to be seen boldly taking the high road, candidly telling it like it is, clearly aligning himself with all the right allies, and unmistakably demonstrating the sort of judgment and leadership we have long missed in our commander-in-chief.

In the end, Obama may still do all right in this campaign controversy that has become an even bigger campaign controversy. But that is only because his Republican presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain, found a way to take what seemed like a win-win gift and react with the sort of mean-spirited distortion that all but accused Obama of being unpatriotic and even borderline treasonous. (We’ll get back to that.)

When Obama toured Afghanistan and Iraq (having been goaded into the trip by McCain’s repeated urgings that he go there), he traveled with a media entourage that included the American TV news superstar anchors from ABC, CBS and NBC. Predictably, these embedded anchors would be at pains to demonstrate that they were not in bed with the rock-star who’s very being had caused them to eject themselves from their cushy anchor-chairs and actually cover some news.

Predictably, they would all grill Obama on whether the surge had indeed worked. And whether he’d been wrong in opposing it from the get-go, and whether his timetable for a 16-month withdrawal of combat troops was wrong too, and so on.

Yet inexplicably, when the anchors and so many others asked those questions time and again, Obama looked hesitant, uncomfortable, almost at pains to make it seem that: (1) the surge had been good but not all that great; (2) the success of the surge brought him no great pleasure or relief; (3) it wasn’t all that relevant to his real message about getting out of Iraq. Wrong; wrong; wrong.

His interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric produced a campaign classic in what-not-to-do as a candidate. Time and again she pressed him to admit that the surge had succeeded. Time and again, he seemed to be nailing Jell-O to the wall — sometimes gazing down rather than directly at her as he spoke. At one point, frustrated and unsure, she asked: "I really don’t mean to belabor this, Senator, because I’m really, I’m trying to figure out your position. Do you think the level of security in Iraq would exist today without the surge?" He answered that this was all hypothetical.

Here’s what Obama could have replied the very first time he was asked if the surge had worked: "Yes — and thank God it did! The concerns and doubts that were raised by me, by present and former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other respected former generals — didn’t materialize due to two factors. First, the Sunni leaders severed their connections with al Qaeda in Iraq. Second, the Shiite militias mainly ceased their attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces. That, plus the excellent leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, has paved the way for the troop withdrawals to begin this year to fulfill the new mission I will order as president: To end the U.S. combat role in Iraq within 16 months, as conditions on the ground permit.”

Obama did none of the above. But just when Obama had presented his opponent with a grand campaign gift, his opponent found a way to give much of it back.

McCain turned it into an attack on Obama’s patriotism — an attack that was both vicious and fallacious. McCain told a New Hampshire town meeting on July 22: "I had the courage and judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." McCain repeated the attack every chance he got in the days (see also: daze) that followed.

For decades, I have known John McCain to be a person proud of traveling the political high road. Yet that attack was the lowest and most scurrilous I have ever heard one presidential candidate utter about another. The McCain I have long known would have been the first to recant and repent.



(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)


  1. rockpyle

    Obama and the kool-aid drinking Obamaniacs are wrong. The surge in Iraq worked. Only a fool would deny it at this point. All arguments that the United States should not have been there in the first place is fair game. However, the surge in Iraq has changed the tide of the Iraq war in favor of the United States and the Iraqi people.

  2. sherry

    I didn’t favor the surge either. It’s difficult to deny things ARE better. No matter how we felt about getting into this mess, shouldn’t we be happy that things are going better?
    Is EVERYTHING so hotly political?

  3. woody188

    His answer should have been:

    Yes, the Surge is but one of many components that helped to make Iraq more secure than it was in 2006. Iran helped negotiate a cease-fire with Al-Sadr. And Al-Maliki’s government is starting to stand up for themselves. But to say the American troop Surge is solely responsible for decreased violence is to over simplify the situation into media sound bites for your viewers.

    Now that is the honest to God truth!

  4. Tom McGrath

    Tom McGrath
    It’s a good thing the number of US military personnel getting killed in Iraq is down, but the political dynamics there have not changed, “the surge” notwithstanding. The Sunnis in al-Anbar province severed their connections with al Qaeda in Iraq because United States bribed them. The US armed and paid Sunni militias – tens of thousands of them.  They are still armed and we are still paying each of them about $300 a month. These are the same people who in March 2004 ambushed an SUV with four US Blackwater contractors, dragged their dying bodies from the vehicle, and hung their mutilated and burned remains from a bridge – while a large crowd stood by cheering enthusiastically. In my view, paying-off these people is not, as Martin Schram would have me believe, a convincing example of the “excellent leadership of Gen. David Petraeus.”

    The Sunnis were Saddam Hussein’s political base and they hate the Shi’ites, who are a majority of the Muslim population in Iraq and for the moment happen to be running the country, again propped up by US money and military muscle. The Sunnis hate our being there but figured they could get a leg up on their long term political prospects by cutting a deal with Petraeus. When the US leaves Iraq, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites are going to go at it, just as they have been for over 1,000 years. If Senator Obama gets elected President, show time is in about 16 months. If Senator McCain gets elected, the inevitable will be delayed for perhaps the length of his administration. That’s what’s going to happen.

    This is not a war. The US is not winning. We will never win, just like the British were never going to win their war against the Irish – unless they killed all of them, which they almost did. Even if the people who bother to vote in this country elect Senator McCain, we will not countenance killing all the people in Iraq. We are mired down in an armed occupation, and they never work out well. Ask any Irishman.

  5. bryan mcclellan

    The surge worked because our tax dollars were used to buy off the warlords and the wanna be sadass saddams.

    Its’ totally ridiculous to think that if this were not an election year violence would be down because we throw more American meat into the grinder.Without the cash influx nothing would have changed and violence surely would have escalated

    We are in their country illegally, we have torn the infrastructure to smithereens, and more innocents die each day than the so called terroristas. If that shit happened here, Oh boy! Surge my eye!

    Go ahead and buy this bag of bush bullshit, but hold your nose as it is reeking to the ends of the earth, and no where is it more fetid and foul than in the newsrooms of the MSM.

    Our military is screwed, the Iraqi’s are screwed, our economy is screwed, and these lying bastards keep singing bomb another one just like the other one.

    The only ones who aren’t screwed are sitting in the hallowed halls of D.C., and they will tell you anything to ensure their right to f#*k the common man and line the pockets of their cronies.

    I want to see these pricks go to Basra, Anbar, and outside the green zone in Baghdad equipped only as our soldiers are and taste the reality of just what real war is and see what folly it is to pay the pipers price.

    Go to a freshly bombed marketplace and pick up body parts of innocent women and children. Go to the houses of the poor who can’t afford to properly prepare the dead for burial, look them in the eye and tell them the goddamn surge is working.

    These media idiots know they would be gutted like pigs or beheaded if suddenly they were snatched up anywhere in the mid-east, but because lord chimpo and his minions continue to give them talking points they go along to preserve not the truth of the matter, but their own sniveling hides.

    Wait till chimpco and company spring their plan to split up the oil and control it. You will see a surge alright,every mothers son and daughter will take to the streets of Iraq and woe betide any in their way.

    This will be the time for manifest destiny Arab style.Maybe they’ll get it right and maybe not, but it’s time to get our people out and let them go at it.

    We look away everywhere else in the world at genocide and war criminals so it’s high time we focus on cleaning the rats out of our government and our media.

    Then when the next election comes around we won’t have to listen to paid for fools like Couric and Hannity etal.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Iraq beats us to it(an honest form of government) if we just leave them the hell alone.

  6. Hoosier_CowBoy

    The Surge was a Media event. It didn’t put a dent in the resolve of those that wish to eject our influence in the M.E..

    First we announced the Surge like a sales event. Any insurgent paying attention took care to dig a deeper hole or extradite themselves from the area before it happened. Get the hell out of Dodge.

    The insurgents only have to last one day longer than us and make more babies to replace the ones lost.

    We have to supply a sizeable force at long distances with no foreseeable end in sight. We will go broke before we loose outright.

  7. Warren

    A surge of $Money$ has won some temporary quiet. The respite from violence has a lot more to do with hauling in tons of $100 bills paid to the warlords than it does with more U.S. troops. The dollars have bought some temporary mercenaries. What do you think happens when the convoy of trucks full of dollars stops? As it must, eventually. Think our “surge” troops are going to pick up the slack? I think not. It’ll be back to civil war, square one. None of the underlying issues have been resolved. All of the lives lost and money spent will have gone to forestall the inevitable. The people of Iraq must decide their own government. That process probably won’t be peaceful, and the U.S. government probably won’t like the outcome.