Sunday, December 21, 2008


Needless to say, posting has been almost embarrassingly light this month. Part of this, I'm sure, can be attributed to the impending Holidays, and their effects on my schedule (think three-dimensional Tetris). Plans to travel and see family, coupled with attempts to squeeze clients into time-slots, while accommodating various vacations and exams (most of my clients are teens and 20-somethings) have had their impact on blogging.

However, if I'm to be entirely honest, I must confess that the outcome of the election has had an impact on me. At first, there was a kind of depression (not so much clinical/personal --I'm not that far gone-- as blogospheric). I'd devoted so much energy to the candidates' qualifications and positions, debunking and exposing and advocating and warning and generally obsessing, that the end of it all left me rather spent.

Also, I have not wanted to be the one who prematurely blasted or gave a pass to the President-Elect. I have been surprisingly sanguine about his appointments to foreign-policy-relevant Cabinet positions; there are signs there of a degree of maturity and pragmatism which frankly I did not expect to see from Obama. Keeping Bob Gates on as Sec Def was an intelligent and politically risky move, for example. I'm not even displeased with Hillary as Secretary of State; she is, if anything, a canny and pragmatic politician, a master triangulator, and a moderate on the Hawk-Dove continuum. Sec State was arguably the role she was born to play. Other appointments have left me rather more wary...which is a subject for another day.

In short, Obama has so far earned a wait-and-see attitude from me, which is quite astonishing, considering his campaign persona and the blindingly foolish things coming out of his mouth as he contended with John McCain for the Big Chair. I suppose the realities of governing have had the hoped-for effect on his policies, a moderating and focusing effect which is inevitably --for someone who is truly intelligent-- going to be at variance with the need to inspire an electorate to cast its vote. I live in hope that reality continues to mug the POTUS-Elect, and that he continues to exercise the sort of political jujitsu for which one can only hope a street fighter like Rahm Emmanuel will be able to provide cover against the unalloyed horror embodied by the likes of Pelosi and Reed.

Meanwhile, before the subject of McCain drops too far in the rear-view, I direct your attention to an editorial from the WaPo, by Sens. McCain, Lieberman, and Graham, in the wake of their recent trip to Iraq. Their observations embody the sort of careful optimism which the near-miraculous turnaround in Iraq has inspired in so many of those who are able to shed the goggles of partisanship long enough actually to look at what has been transpiring there:

Based on our observations and consultations in Baghdad, we are optimistic that President-elect Obama will be able to fulfill a major step of his plan for withdrawal next year by redeploying U.S. combat forces from Iraq's cities while maintaining a residual force to train and mentor our Iraqi allies. We caution, however, that 2009 will be a pivotal year for Iraq, with provincial and then national elections whose secure and legitimate conduct depends on our continued engagement. By allowing a greater number of forces to remain in Iraq in the short term, we will be able to set the conditions for much deeper troop cuts thereafter.

Really, there is nothing new here; this has always been the plan: stay long enough to stabilize the situation, allow the government to dig in and prove its legitimacy, and train up the Iraqi military and police to the point that they can function as a modern, professional force in the service of the Iraqi people's interests, guided by civilian leadership which will set sound policy. Then pull out in a responsible manner, and let the Iraqi people chart their own course. The difference is that those goals are far less abstract than they once were. Indeed, they are very much in sight.

Just as the destiny of Iraq was very much in question as little as 18 months ago, so the nature of an Obama Administration's strategies and tactics were a terrifying cipher until recently. It is my considered opinion that there are unexpected grounds for hope on both fronts. It is still my belief that McCain would have been a simply superb President (a statement which is likely to draw considerable fire from both Liberals and Conservatives who may read these words). But I am starting to see that Obama may not prove the unmitigated disaster I'd been so certain he would be (ditto!).

I have not forgotten that Obama opposed the change in strategy which has made the current situation in Iraq possible. The fact that he has shown indications of being able to respond intelligently to current conditions is not prima facie evidence that he will have the wherewithal to craft and implement policies which will result in similarly favorable conditions in the future. There will likely be only a short span in the early days of his presidency during which he can ride the coattails of --and vehemently disavow-- the accomplishments of Bush's foreign policy team. After that, he is on his own. Interestingly, this is something which he and Nouri al Maliki share.

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