Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Concerns over Obama Iraq policy continue to mount

A number of experts share my concern that the Obama Administration is taking undue risks with its Iraq policy. In a compelling analysis, Meghan O’Sullivan lays out the potential upside of a more prudent Iraq policy. And in an equally compelling analysis, Kenneth Pollack lays out the potential downside of the path that the Obama ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A number of experts share my concern that the Obama Administration is taking undue risks with its Iraq policy. In a compelling analysis, Meghan O'Sullivan lays out the potential upside of a more prudent Iraq policy. And in an equally compelling analysis, Kenneth Pollack lays out the potential downside of the path that the Obama Administration appears to have chosen. Together, they make a powerful argument for reconsidering the current trajectory and for making a mid-course correction.

I worked closely with O'Sullivan on Iraq policy in Bush's second term, and I found her to be one of the most candid and insightful internal critics of our policies. She was an early advocate of the shift to the surge strategy and she was especially good at understanding the interplay of U.S. policy and internal Iraqi politics.

Pollack was one of the more important outside voices on Bush's Iraq policy. He was an early supporter of efforts to confront the Hussein regime, but he also was an early critic of missteps. By 2006 his critique was especially trenchant. Then in late July 2007, he co-authored (with Michael O'Hanlon) one of the most influential op-eds in the entire Iraq saga. At that time, Republican backers of Bush's efforts in Iraq were losing heart and Democratic opponents of the surge were close to realizing their goal of stopping the new strategy. The Bush White House was reduced to pleading for a few weeks delay so Congress could hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker directly in September, but the mood in Congress was unwilling even to do that. In the midst of the political storm, Pollack and O'Hanlon wrote that the new surge strategy was working and that political opponents at home should give it more time. Since Bush opponents had regularly used Pollack and O'Hanlon's earlier critiques as a club with which to bash the Administration, their surprising notes of optimism gave their op-ed outsized influence.

A number of experts share my concern that the Obama Administration is taking undue risks with its Iraq policy. In a compelling analysis, Meghan O’Sullivan lays out the potential upside of a more prudent Iraq policy. And in an equally compelling analysis, Kenneth Pollack lays out the potential downside of the path that the Obama Administration appears to have chosen. Together, they make a powerful argument for reconsidering the current trajectory and for making a mid-course correction.

I worked closely with O’Sullivan on Iraq policy in Bush’s second term, and I found her to be one of the most candid and insightful internal critics of our policies. She was an early advocate of the shift to the surge strategy and she was especially good at understanding the interplay of U.S. policy and internal Iraqi politics.

Pollack was one of the more important outside voices on Bush’s Iraq policy. He was an early supporter of efforts to confront the Hussein regime, but he also was an early critic of missteps. By 2006 his critique was especially trenchant. Then in late July 2007, he co-authored (with Michael O’Hanlon) one of the most influential op-eds in the entire Iraq saga. At that time, Republican backers of Bush’s efforts in Iraq were losing heart and Democratic opponents of the surge were close to realizing their goal of stopping the new strategy. The Bush White House was reduced to pleading for a few weeks delay so Congress could hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker directly in September, but the mood in Congress was unwilling even to do that. In the midst of the political storm, Pollack and O’Hanlon wrote that the new surge strategy was working and that political opponents at home should give it more time. Since Bush opponents had regularly used Pollack and O’Hanlon’s earlier critiques as a club with which to bash the Administration, their surprising notes of optimism gave their op-ed outsized influence.

I hope the Obama Administration is listening to O’Sullivan, Pollack, and others today. If Obama policymakers have a good counter-argument, I would like to see it developed in a thoughtful way — addressing these real critiques, rather than strawman arguments. The Obama team has the benefit of inside information that even the most well-informed outsiders might lack, so it is possible the Administration understands something that these recent pieces are missing. But it is also possible that the Administration has locked onto a policy that is wrong-headed and the President is in a state of denial over the likely consequences. Only a careful and candid engagement of the arguments can resolve the matter. Time is running out for that engagement.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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