Thomas Friedman's Sudden Obama-Based Optimism on Iraq

Chutzpah, thy name is Thomas. Columnist Thomas Friedman Sunday piece, "Obama's Iraq Inheritance," relayed a surprisingly optimistic analysis of the situation in Iraq as it stands now. But can you spot the missing word? Proper name, four letters, one syllable, starts with "B".

While Friedman mentioned President Bush in passing twice, both came in negative contexts. Yet when Friedman mentioned the success of the troop surge in Iraq, he failed to mention that Bush and Republican candidate John McCain supported it, while President-elect Obama opposed it.

Al Qaeda has not been fully defeated in Iraq; suicide bombings are still an almost daily reality. But it has been dealt a severe blow, which I believe is one reason the Muslim jihadists - those brave warriors who specialize in killing women and children and defenseless tourists - have turned their attention to softer targets like India. Just as they tried to stoke a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq, and failed, they are now trying to stoke a Hindu-Muslim civil war in India.

If Iraq can keep improving - still uncertain - and become a place where Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites can write their own social contract and live together with a modicum of stability, it could one day become a strategic asset for the United States in the post-9/11 effort to promote different politics in the Arab-Muslim world.


In the last year, though, the U.S. troop surge and the backlash from moderate Iraqi Sunnis against Al Qaeda and Iraqi Shiites against pro-Iranian extremists have brought a new measure of stability to Iraq. There is now, for the first time, a chance - still only a chance - that a reasonably stable democratizing government, though no doubt corrupt in places, can take root in the Iraqi political space.

That is the Iraq that Obama is inheriting. It is an Iraq where we have to begin drawing down our troops - because the occupation has gone on too long and because we have now committed to do so by treaty - but it is also an Iraq that has the potential to eventually tilt the Arab-Muslim world in a different direction.

Near the conclusion, Friedman flew right by Obama's call for a speedy withdrawal from Iraq, and then suggested that by sticking to Bush's plan (without actually calling it that), the Democrats would benefit, even though (without Friedman saying so) the Democrats were the party that had been opposed to the successful troop surge in the first place.

I'm sure that Obama, whatever he said during the campaign, will play this smart. He has to avoid giving Iraqi leaders the feeling that Bush did - that he'll wait forever for them to sort out their politics - while also not suggesting that he is leaving tomorrow, so they all start stockpiling weapons.

If he can pull this off, and help that decent Iraq take root, Obama and the Democrats could not only end the Iraq war but salvage something positive from it. Nothing would do more to enhance the Democratic Party's national security credentials than that.