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June 11, 2008



The obvious response to all this serious thinking -- that it is all about Iraq, not about what Iraq is costing the United States -- is one I've made often enough that there's no need to make it at any length here.

So I'll make another point. Serious thinking is fine for a university seminar, but someone will have to make government policy; some ideas will win and some will lose, because the advocates of some ideas will make policy and advocates of others won't. Who will make policy on Iraq in an Obama administration?

The importance of this can be seen by looking at who has made policy on Iraq in the Bush administration. Different people in different offices have called different shots at different times, sometimes getting all their own way and sometimes having to split the difference with the heads of competing power centers within the administration. Some decisions haven't gotten made; some were made in haste only to be revisited later, and revisited again after that. Over and over the Americans in Iraq found themselves responding to events rather than shaping them, and so too did Americans in Washington. It is no accident that over five years since the war started it is still being funded by emergency appropriations bills.

Would a President Obama take a different approach? The question here is one of policy process, not substance. We have all these clever people in Obama's campaign organization wrangling over conditional resets of strategic engagements, but if they all end up in an Obama administration we'll have a foreign policy novice trying to sort out their disagreements, along with the very contrary views of the military command in Baghdad, under the pressure of events. How is this going to work?

I have pretty firm ideas as to how foreign policy ought to be made. They aren't particularly clever or very original; they emphasize clear chains of command, orderly procedures, and continual, strenuous effort to give priority to the important over the merely urgent. A foreign policy made along these lines will inevitably make of some serious thinkers deeply frustrated critics, because at some point discussion has to stop and decisions need to be made. But that's what I think. What does Obama think? Frankly, it looks to me as if he is resolved to think about thinking about all this later, after the election. He'll bring in a foreign policy team with disparate views, struggle to reconcile them, and end up reacting to events. I'd be happy to be proven wrong about this.


The idea that some politicians have ideas that will lead to policy and others don't is misleading. Politicians will always be prepared to talk...forever! The thing that makes this American experiment in democracy a more perfect union is that our founders completely understood this issue. That is why we have a House of Representatives that is up for election every two years. Show progress or go home. Because our governmental bodies are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate entities, which can easily buy any third world "parliament", we don't demand that American blood and treasure be used to give those people the same freedom we enjoy here. If you can't throw out the tax man every two years you can't be free!!!


Kahl's plan is not the Obama plan. The Obama plan is closer to "conditional disengagement." This was an option that Kahl's earlier paper initially ignored. Obama's CD is not the same as Kahl's CD because Kahl conceives of conditionality as the Iraqi governments commitment to political change whereas Obama means conditions on the ground. Either way, I think Kahl is wrong to push CE over CD.

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