I’ve read it twice, and I don’t really understand what George Packer’s problem with Barack Obama’s Iraq policy is:
Obama offers Iraq as the bad war that we have to end if we want to win the good war in Afghanistan and turn around the economy at home. There’s more than a little truth to this, but I can’t help wishing that his speech on Iraq in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, had anything close to the level of complexity and depth shown in his historic speech on race the day before, in Philadelphia. There was no deep consideration of the fate of more than four million displaced Iraqis, the specter of growing Iranian influence in Iraq, the likelihood of a return to terrible levels of violence as American combat brigades are withdrawn, the border tensions between Iraq and Turkey, the future of Kirkuk, or a strategy for preserving the very fragile improvements of the past six months. Instead, the speech presented what sounded like a fairly cost-free, win-win plan.
Obama’s key contention, as underscored by Packer, is that Iraq is “the bad war that we have to end if we want to win the good war in Afghanistan and turn around the economy at home.” Now obviously if you don’t buy that analysis, you’re not going to like Obama’s Iraq policy. But Packer doesn’t seem to disagree with it. Instead, he says “there’s more than a little truth to” what Obama is saying. But so if Obama’s right, then he right. Packer doesn’t see it that way. He seems to think that Obama should have gone in for some more showy hand-wringing. But why should he do that? Packer’s upset that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan for Kirkuk, but that’s just the point; Obama recognizes that nobody has a viable plan to solve Iraq’s problems so he wants to put our resources where they can do more good.
A policy that puts over 100,000 American soldiers in Iraq in order to not solve Iraq’s problems isn’t a close substitute for solving Iraq’s problems. On the other hand, maybe Packer just liked Obama’s race speech a lot more than I did.