I’m Bush bitten and Obama shy

By Dan Streib

“Now is a time to be bold. We must not stay the course or take the conventional path because the other course is unknown.”- U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) from his Iraq speech Wednesday.

This is the second time this column has begun with a quote from Barack Obama. This is the third column in which I have devoted significant time to statements made by our home state senator. Many people might be inclined to ask why I choose to devote so much time to him. “Yes, he’s charismatic,” they will agree. “Yes, he’s from Illinois,” they will affirm. But despite this level of understanding, the questions will still remain about the proper use of ink, paper and time I devote to this politician. There are other topics in the world. But this guy’s popular, and he is aspiring to be president of the United States of America. And so I write.

The pressing reason for this column is the statement quoted above from his recent speech on Iraq policy. The other reason is deeper, but that reason will become more readily apparent in a moment.

As anyone can tell you, it’s quite obvious that the public was a little divided going into the war, and is more divided now about getting out. Personally, I was against the invasion of Iraq, but I do not think it prudent or morally permissible to leave. However, my views are not being scrutinized here. The ideas in question are those of a presidential candidate, and they are being questioned not for me, but for all possible voters reading my column.

The fact of the matter is, those against withdrawal, such as myself, will probably not be handing our votes to Mr. Obama this winter and spring in the primaries anyway. We find the idea of a precipitous withdrawal apprehensible. But those who are in favor of withdrawal – and this is not an illogical position to take – might find other aspects of Obama to be unfavorable. And personally, despite my difference of opinion on Iraq with many Democrats, I admire them on other policy issues. It’s Obama whom I find bothersome, and he should bother others, too, due to something represented in the above quotation: rhetoric with no substance.

The fact of the matter is, this quote was made just after a reference to the duty Americans have to the Iraqi people and to the U.S. soldiers on the ground. The quote itself refers to his plan for withdrawal from Iraq, and how it is necessary. But think about the quoted portion of his speech above for just one second. Boldness and radical policy shifts are emphasized, not because of their soundness, but because of problems in the current course of action. Sounds a slight bit like the Bush administration before invading Iraq, doesn’t it?

Let’s recap policy toward Iraq before 9/11 and Bush. Throughout the 1990s, America emphasized a policy of containment that focused on preventing more of Saddam’s land and oil grabs. We also emphasized U.N. inspections and air strikes, when Saddam was not proving that he disbanded his weapons. We now know he had them without telling anyone. How nice of him.

Then came 9/11. Then came a shift in Bush’s thinking. At the time, there was a legitimate case for invasion (legit does not mean correct) having to do with Saddam’s lack of cooperation with international demands for more than 10 years. This case was made, but other false cases were too. Radical shifts in world views were supported, threats were hyped and the invasion was promoted while ignoring potential negative consequences. How ironic.

Obama proposes bold shifts in policy regardless of consequences. Other supporters of withdrawal from Iraq look carefully at the situation and try to devise the best possible policy prescriptions. One might wonder what the reasons for policies matter if the results are supposedly the same. They should remember that if America had been aware of the dangers involved in an invasion, we might be in a better situation now, both politically and militarily.

This would have been nice, but we had a president who ignored the importance of reasoned debate about invasion and its consequences. No one ever wants a president like that again.