Saturday, June 07, 2008

On Obama and Iraq

OK, this is worth noting: 99% of the time, conservative 527s (like their liberal counterparts) are bloviating about nothing - the most strident example of this being the Swift Boat Vets from 2004. And I'm sure we'll have 527s trying to convince us that we should care about Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers and Rod Parsley and McCain's ex-lobbyist staffers and whatever insignificant issue you can imagine. But the ridiculously named right-wing attack 527 "Vets for Freedom" may have hit on something when they talk about Obama's lack of visits to Iraq or meetings with Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

Here's the VfF founder, Pete Hegseth, explaining why he thinks it matters. Essentially, if you filter out all the right-wing talking points, the argument boils down to this: you can't understand what's going on in Iraq unless you go over there and talk to army leaders, rank-and-file soldiers, and Iraq's political leaders.

Obama would counter that the military puts on a dog-and-pony show for visiting luminaries, and that the truth on the ground is obscured. But certainly there's only so much that the military can hide. And if Obama's not getting his information from meetings with Petraeus or al-Maliki and if he's not meeting with troops in the field, he's getting his info essentially the same way we are - through the media and through anecdotes from soldiers he knows. I wouldn't feel confident about making a decision on the proper course of action in Iraq from what I now know. I can't see how Obama would either.

Obama has been to Iraq once, in 2006 - but a lot of things have probably changed since '06, when the war was at its darkest. The rigors of the campaign and the safety requirements for a candidate will likely not permit him to visit before November 5. But I think Obama should pledge to visit Iraq and meet with Petraeus and al-Maliki as soon as possible should he be elected. In fairness, I suspect Obama probably will make that visit. And if Obama should choose Joe Biden (who practically lives over there) or Jim Webb (who has forgotten more about the military than I'll ever know) as his running mate, these criticisms have less validity since there'll be a highly knowledgeable advisor at his side.

But I worry, and here's why - one of the more off-putting things about Bush's presidency is his seeming tendency to make uninformed decisions based on ideology, and his seeming lack of intellectual curiosity. We don't need more of that out of our next President, be that Obama or McCain.

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