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Obama Wraps Up the Bush Status Quo in Pompous Clichés

Obama Wraps Up the Bush Status Quo in Pompous Clichés

By Robert Tracinski - July 20, 2008

I am quickly coming to the conclusion that all there has ever been to Barack Obama is symbolism and grandiloquent speeches. There is the symbolism of him as the (potential) first black president. And there is his ability to give portentous speeches in high-flown Harvard rhetoric, perfectly pitched to sound thoughtful to college-educated liberals--without actually saying anything.

And here we go again, with another one of Obama's patented Big Speeches, this time on Iraq. It is pitched to sound sincere and intellectual, and to sell us on his allegedly superior foreign-policy judgment--so long as we drift through it and don't start asking any questions.

The speech has two purposes. One is to artfully evade Obama's massive misjudgment of the "surge," which he unequivocally opposed. Thus, while he half-acknowledges the enormous turnaround in Iraq, here is how he describes its cause:

As I have said many times, our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence. General Petraeus has used new tactics to protect the Iraqi population. We have talked directly to Sunni tribes that used to be hostile to America, and supported their fight against al Qaeda. Shiite militias have generally respected a cease-fire. Those are the facts, and all Americans welcome them.

Here's a tip. When Obama begins a sentence with "As I have said many times," this means that he is about to announce a totally new position that contradicts everything he has said before. For a little reminder of what Obama has actually said about the surge "many times," check out this video clip helpfully posted to YouTube by the Republican National Committee.

The rest of that passage shows a total, willful ignorance about what the surge actually consisted of and what it has done. He says that we "talked directly to Sunni tribes that used to be hostile to America." Well, we did a little more than talk. We backed up the Sunni "Awakening" movement with some serious military action--which is precisely what the extra "surge" troops were needed for.

But the most ridiculous line is that "Shiite militias have generally respected a cease-fire." This Spring saw pitched fighting between Iraqi troops and the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army militia--fighting that ended because the Mahdi Army lost. Does Obama not even watch the news?

But that is not what is most interesting about the speech. What is most interesting is its main purpose, which is to make it sound as if Obama is offering a whole new strategic direction for the War on Terrorism--while he declares that he would implement precisely the policies that are already being followed by the Bush administration.

He says that "True success" in Iraq--note that he has even borrowed Bush's habit of saying "success" in place of "victory"--"will take place when we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future--a government that prevents sectarian conflict, and ensures that the al Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge." But that is precisely what is already happening. Sectarian killings in Iraq, for example, have dropped to zero for about ten weeks running.

And how does Obama propose to ensure that we keep on enjoying this "true success" in Iraq? "We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010--one year after Iraqi Security Forces will be prepared to stand up; two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, we'll keep a residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq: targeting any remnants of al Qaeda; protecting our service members and diplomats; and training and supporting Iraq's Security Forces."

Note the part about the "residual" combat force, whose size Obama never specifies, which will target the remnants of al Qaeda and train and support Iraqi forces--which is precisely the end result envisioned by the Bush administration if the current progress in Iraq continues.

But maybe the big difference is that Obama will stick to his 16-month timetable no matter what, while Bush and McCain want to make withdrawal dependent on conditions on the ground. Well no, Obama would "make tactical adjustments" after consulting with "commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government."

That final flip-flop that the left has been dreading, when Obama throws out his commitment to a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq? It just happened. I wonder how long it will take them to notice.

Obama's policies for Afghanistan and Pakistan also read like a giant "me-too" to the current administration. His "new strategy" is to do more of what we're already doing: increase troops, increase economic aid, and try jawboning the Pakistani government into fighting the militants.

But the biggest piece of misdirection in the whole speech is about Iran. One of the centerpieces of Obama's strategy is a plan to "secur[e] all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states." So that means shutting down Iran's nuclear weapons program. How does he propose to do that?

Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States.... I commend the work of our European allies on this important matter, and we should be full partners in that effort.... We will...present a clear choice. If you abandon your nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives. If you refuse, then we will ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions in the Security Council, and sustained action outside the UN to isolate the Iranian regime. That's the diplomacy we need

So he'll cooperate closely with our European allies to offer the Iranians incentives to stop their nuclear program and threaten them with sanctions and diplomatic "isolation" if they refuse. In other words: precisely the policy the Bush administration has followed for the past six years, and especially since the summer of 2006--all with no results.

So on these issues, there is nothing to Obama's speech. It is a whole bunch of pompous clichés--stuff like "it falls to us to act with the same sense of purpose and pragmatism as an earlier generation, to join with friends and partners to lead the world anew"--wrapped around the conventional wisdom.

And that's all there ever has been to Barack Obama: symbolism and grandiloquent speeches.

Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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