Michael Gerson is right that Obama is weak on Iraq. Surprise: that’s Obama’s stated policy. What isn’t a surprise is that the only detailed arguments Gerson can muster against Obama are also weak. Let’s review:
MG: Recent, paradoxical polls show a dramatic increase in the number of people who believe that the war is now going well alongside a hardening majority who believe it should not have been begun. Barack Obama’s strongest argument on Iraq is increasingly about the past.
A past increasingly based on dramatic recent evidence? The argument about whether the war we are fighting should have been started the way it was started is strong because it refers us to the likelihood of eternally recurring future problems created by the war’s inception.
MG: it seems increasingly unfair to denigrate the efforts of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which has moved forward on 12 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress and has recently engaged Shiite militias in a fight the United States has been demanding.
This is why I have contempt for statistics. Try this: “it seems increasingly unfair to praise the efforts of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which has not only failed to meet any benchmark set by Congress but has failed to make progress on 1 out of every 3.”
MG: Obama promises to personally negotiate with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Iran’s destabilizing support and training of Shiite militias. What might seem a bold strategic maneuver from a Nixon or Kissinger smacks of dangerous naivete from a fourth-year senator.
Might? Seem? Smacks? Dangerous? Is it more important that a policy seems stupid than that it is? The stupidity is in talking with Ahmadinejad instead of the real players in Iran, but Gerson seems dangerously naive about the difference.
MG: [Obama says] “foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.” The question here is not self-confidence but public confidence. And Obama’s political judgment is exactly wrong. He will have enormous advantages on domestic policy in the coming campaign, on which he seems both more activist and interested than McCain. But McCain is ahead on measures such as “strong leader.” Obama needs to seem, and be, more commander in chief-like.
Gerson puts seeming before being at every opportunity. How, I ask you, can one be more commander in chief-like? By seeming, of course. Gerson actually advocates meta-seeming. He really must be for Hillary. Read that second-to-last sentence again. What is ‘strong leader’? Caveman praise? What is a ‘measure’? An unjustified, meaningless impression fabricated by public opinion and kept afloat by content-free rhetoric? If this is the standard, Obama passes with flying colors.
Look: this column isn’t all rot — buried in the final paragraph is an ounce of wisdom. But does citing Fred Kagan really muster public credibility? For every sound observation there are at least three howlers; good enough for the Washington Post, perhaps, but not for Washington.