Events since then, however, confirm the judgement that CiF's sub-editors attributed to me. Military success has enabled constitutional authority in Iraq to gain strength. Today's Washington Post notes in its editorial column that:
[T]he Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have 'never been closer to defeat than they are now.'
These are hugely significant and encouraging developments for Iraq and for the wider struggle against Islamist terrorism. As a secondary consequence, they also affect the political debate in the elections for US president, in particular the strategy adopted by the Democrats. As the Post notes, "the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise".
It would be an understatement to say that Barack Obama as yet gives no intimation that he realises the stakes involved in this struggle, and that his foreign policy pronouncements show a striking naïveté. There is no necessary reason that Democrats need be seen as weak on national security. Two of the party's most formidable thinkers on foreign affairs, Kurt Campbell and Michael O'Hanlon, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution respectively, wrote a fine book in 2006 entitled Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security. They criticised with obvious justification the insouciance and irresponsibility of the Bush administration's approach to security, but warned their fellow Democrats that "hard power and military matters remain at the core of what's important to Americans in the years ahead".
The Democrats are about to nominate a candidate who, on the evidence of his public statements, does not understand the operation even of soft power, let alone of military force. Charles Krauthammer has bluntly identified Obama's problem:
Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chávez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure -- then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration's refusal to do so not just "ridiculous" but "a disgrace."
After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.
Should the president ever meet with enemies? Sometimes, but only after minimal American objectives -- i.e., preconditions -- have been met. The Shanghai communique was largely written long before Richard Nixon ever touched down in China. Yet Obama thinks Nixon to China confirms the wisdom of his willingness to undertake a worldwide freshman-year tyrants tour.
Obama's position is indeed an absurdity and not merely an error. To be effective in diplomacy you need to be prepared to bargain, even if tacitly, otherwise you remove the incentive of the other party to cooperate. Diplomacy is about the attainment of ends and not merely the appearance of comity.
It was said of the famously ineffectual Austen Chamberlain (till William Hague, the only Tory leader in the twentieth century not to become Prime Minister) that he always played the game and always lost it. America's friends abroad, and especially those of us on the Left, have grounds for worry that the Democrats may be adopting a similar approach in foreign affairs.