Barely out of his political 'diapers', Barack is the wrong man in Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ08

Young, photogenic, smooth talking and with a consistent record of opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Democrats must have thought all their Christmas’ had come at once when Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the 2008 Presidential Election earlier this month.  Finally, a credible candidate who isn’t Hillary Clinton, who doesn’t have the baggage of originally supporting the war (John Edwards), who isn’t completely polarising (Al Gore) and who wouldn’t put an insomniacs society to sleep within ten minutes of opening his mouth (Joe Bidden).  He can take on the Republicans too.  He isn’t past retirement age (John McCain) and has more experience than just being the mayor of a city (Giuliani).  A natural, you might say.  But what should we make of him?

Perceptive, intelligent and coherent, Obama picked up early on that there may be something wrong with the evidence claiming Saddam had WMD’s, and takes every given opportunity to remind voters of his consistent opposition to the invasion.  But this in itself does not make him a good presidential candidate.  As a Senator, he has a duty to propose a remedy to the situation.  So what does he have to say?

Last month in the U.S. Senate, Obama tabled ‘The Iraq War De-escalation Act’ which, if passed (in itself highly unlikely) would mandate “a phased redeployment of U.S. forces with the goal of removing all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008.”  In short, he believes a timetable for withdrawal is the best tool the U.S. has to pressure Iraq’s warring factions to agree a political settlement, as no amount of American military power can solve “somebody else’s civil war.”  The proposal of this bill, which Obama believes plays to his greatest strength, actually illustrates his greatest weakness.

As Niall Ferguson (Sunday Telegraph, Feb 18) points out, Mr. Obama has forgotten Colin Powell’s famous pottery barn dictum: “You break it, you own it.”  In other words, America broke Iraq, so America must fix Iraq.  Claiming it to be “somebody else’s civil war” implies the current bloodshed is the responsibility of some other nation.  However, his biggest error is his belief that setting a timetable for withdrawal will lead to a de-escalation of the conflict, as if the bloodthirsty militias will just say: “OK, those Americas have gone now so we can all just play nice.”  The opposite is much more likely to happen, with one report from the Brookings Institution predicting a humanitarian catastrophe that could see hundreds of thousands perish.  To boot, oil prices would rise, potentially passing the $100 a barrel level. 

If only Obama had a better understanding of the history of civil wars, he would realise they rarely stay localised, as residents of the Balkans, Rwanda and Chad will readily testify. As the Brookings report notes, it is only the presence of 135,000 U.S. troops that is preventing an already bad situation becoming infinitely worse.  If Obama had his way, these troops would be gone by next March.

Illinois’ junior Senator is as sincere as he is naïve, but one thing he is not is ready to head to the White House.

Anton Muszanskyj

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