I know what this conflict is all about. I will bring our troops home. I will bring them home in victory. I will not do what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said would be very dangerous. We will have a stable Iraq that we won't have to return to because we have succeeded in the strategy and we will come home with victory and honor and not in defeat. Sen. Obama has said that if the surge failed that he might have to send troops back. After this surge has succeeded and we’ve won a victory, we’ll never have to send Americans back.Obama:
What happens is that if we continue to put $10 billion to $12 billion a month into Iraq, if we are willing to send as many troops as we can muster continually into Iraq? There's no doubt that that's gonna have an impact. But it doesn't meet our long-term strategic goal, which is to make the American people safer over the long term. If that means that we're detracting from our efforts in Afghanistan, where conditions are deteriorating, if it means that we are distracted from going after Osama bin Laden who is still sending out audio tapes and is operating training camps where we know terrorists' actions are being plotted.There seems to be a major difference in focus, as well as assumptions. I hope McCain has a more broad concept of victory than the one he articulates here, because what he's calling for isn't strategic victory, it's operational. Operational victory on the wrong front can be worse than irrelevant. It would be as if the US fought World War II by invading Brazil. Even if you win there, it doesn't really matter.
If we have shifted away from the central front of terrorism as a consequence of enormous and continuing investments in Iraq, then that's a poor strategic choice. And ultimately, what we've got to do is - we have to recognize that Iraq is just one of our … security problems. It's not the only one.
McCain seems to be assuming Iraq is the center of gravity, the necessary battle if one is to win the war (or at least not lose it). Obama seems to be assuming Iraq is peripheral.
So which is right? I'm fairly certain that Iraq was peripheral in 2001, and in 2003. The American commitment made Iraq more important, and it encouraged a transfer of enemy resources to that front. If and when the US shifts to another front, some of those enemy resources will follow. I don't care much about perceptions of "American resolve," because those can be influenced by other means, and they aren't all that important in the long-term calculations of most opponents anyway. It's a poor bet to assume another state will be so internally fragmented that it will refuse to use its capabilities. And while some people will make that bet (Saddam Hussein comes to mind), most will apply some kind of worse-case assumption.
If it is American choices that have increased Iraq's importance, other choices can reduce it. I suspect that two years after most combat troops are out of Iraq--however it is accomplished--the country will not be considered important enough to go back in with a similar force, no matter what happens there.