O’Hanlon Mourns That Obama Was Right On Iraq

cover3.jpgBrookings fellow Michael O’Hanlon continues his abysmal record of staking out the wrong positions on Iraq in an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, criticizing presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s position on the war.

It is puzzling why newspapers print O’Hanlon’s analysis, since he’s been repeatedly wrong in staking out his inconsistent and often incoherent positions on Iraq. As Think Progress has previously noted, O’Hanlon’s record on Iraq policy for the past five years has been radically uneven — at one point in 2004, supporting a timeline for withdrawing troops, and at other points arguing for staying the course for years to come.

Angling for influence is nothing new for O’Hanlon, who tried to position himself in the policy and political debates by in 2004 by criticizing Howard Dean and throughout the past year with proponents for change in Iraq like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In this electoral year’s article from O’Hanlon, he outlines what he sees as two main problems with Obama’s Iraq position:

1. O’HANLON: “[Obama] seems contemptuous of the motivations of those who supported the war.”

O’Hanlon offers up a thinly-veiled defense for analysts like himself who offered tragically wrong advice in the war in March 2003 — O’Hanlon cannot seem to face up to the fact that he lined up on the wrong side of the arguments on Iraq, and America has suffered serious damage to its national security as a result.

O’Hanlon argued against the war at certain points in 2002 and even outlined a long list of preconditions before going to war in a policy paper he co-published called “Getting Serious About Iraq” (most of these conditions were not met). But then he forgot many of his own arguments and naively accepted the information and arguments presented by the Bush administration on the eve of the war. (He said about Bush’s case for war in the 2003 State of the Union address the president was “convincing on his central point that the time of war is near.”)

It may be that people are contemptuous of those who posture and profess to offer expertise on the right path forward on Iraq like O’Hanlon does, even though their track record is awful. In most professions, there are consequences for bad performance. Doctors face the threat of medical malpractice suits; policy analysts like O’Hanlon get to make mistakes again and again with impunity, as do journalists who quote him and publish his pieces.

2. O’HANLON: “Obama’s second Iraq problem is his insistence that, whatever happens there during 2008, he would withdraw all our main combat forces in the first 16 months of his presidency.”

Here O’Hanlon again offers bad advice and displays his unwillingness to recognize the Bush surge in Iraq has failed to achieve its fundamental goal — to advance political reconciliation among Iraq’s leaders. It’s a good thing that fewer Iraqis are dying, but Iraq’s leaders are no closer to a political settlement, which was the point of the surge. Unless Iraq’s leaders strike the power-sharing deals necessary to stabilize their country, the drop in violence is not likely to be sustainable. O’Hanlon favors fostering the dangerous and dysfunctional culture of dependency among Iraq’s leaders that comes with his proposals to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

O’Hanlon’s solution? Divide up the country into something he calls a “soft partition,” something that the vast majority of Iraqis oppose. O’Hanlon’s recommendations include a long-term U.S. troop presence, something the vast majority of Americans oppose.

Instead of printing O’Hanlon’s attempts to remain relevant in the Iraq debate, Americans should continue listening to those pushing for change, whether it includes conservatives like Ron Paul or progressives like Obama, Edwards, and Clinton. They should also check out the Center’s Strategic Reset plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach for using the full range of America’s powers to stabilize Iraq and the Middle East, centered on a phased redeployment of U.S. troops in 12 to 18 months and intensified diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.

Brian Katulis

Full disclosure: Katulis has formally endorsed Obama.