President Barack Obama needs to show more commitment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, says Mideast expert James Phillips.
Regarding Iraq, “President Obama should say he’s committed not only to ending the war, but winning the war,” Phillips tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview. “Many Iraqis are nervous they will be abandoned to an uncertain fate if the president continues to pack up U.S. troops lock, stock and barrel.”
Phillips, senior fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, says Obama should drop the unrealistic deadline for U.S. troops to leave by the end of next year.
“We now know that’s a very unrealistic deadline,” he says.
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“The head of the Iraqi military has said Iraqi forces won’t be able to stand on their own until 2020. The Obama administration must indicate it’s committed to Iraqi security and staying to help Iraq after 2011.”
Phillips doesn’t have a problem with independent contractors replacing some U.S. troops in Iraq. “But the administration needs to rethink plans to transfer many military tasks to the State Department,” he says.
“There should be a continuing role for U.S. troops in Iraq, not full-out combat, but protection of U.S. officials and civilians.”
Phillips scoffs at Vice President Joe Biden’s notion that the United States and Iraq will be fine upon withdrawal. “I’d be hesitant to accept Vice President Biden’s conclusion, because he is so often wrong about the war in Iraq,” Phillips says.
“He opposed the surge in 2007 and recommended that Iraq be broken up into autonomous regions.”
As for Afghanistan, the public hears too much about our losses there and not enough about our successes, Phillips says. “The president needs to do more to press the case for Afghanistan.”
In the dispute between Army Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over Afghanistan, Phillips sides with Petraeus, who wants flexibility in terms of the July 2011 deadline to withdraw troops.
“It shows the administration still hasn’t reached consensus on its own strategy,” Phillips says. We should follow the judgment of the field officer Petraeus, “not an arbitrary political deadline set by Washington.
The war is winnable, Phillips says. But, “If we want to see Afghans opposed to al Qaida and the Taliban in power, then we need to remain committed to their long-term victory,” he said
“I would like to hear President Obama say Afghanistan remains a high priority, the situation is resolvable, and Americans need to have patience for a victory and not just a negotiated solution that will allow the Taliban to take over later.”
On the Israel-Palestinian front, Phillips doesn’t expect an agreement on their talks for a separate Palestinian state by the administration’s one-year deadline.
“The administration is unrealistic in setting a deadline,” he said. “That may work for community organizing, but foreign policy is a very delicate thing that should be monitored by those close to the situation, not by officials in the distant capital.”
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