Opinion

Obama's Iraq Mission: Win Over the Military

By Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarlandFormer Defense Department Official

President Obama understands that symbols are important. That's why he went to Europe and Turkeky; to show the world America has a new face and to rebuild bridges to our allies.

That's why he also made a surprise visit to Iraq -- to rebuild bridges with the American military. Candidate Obama was the anti-war candidate. He opposed the Irraq War from the start, criticized some Americans troops for their war conduct, and pledged an immediate withdrawal if elected. President Obama now realizes things aren't so simple. A year ago he proclaimed the Iraq War as lost; today he will preside over the only war we've won -- and it's Bush's war.

But Obama needs to repair relations with the American military for a second reason -- the Afghanistan war. Candidate Obama implied Afghanistan was the 'good war" while Iraq was not. President Obama recently articulated a new strategy for the Afghanistan War -- to expand the scope to include Pakistan, and to narrow the goal -- to defeat and destroy Al Qaeda.

The "AfPak" war, as it's now known, is Obama's War. He owns it, as Bush owned Iraq. If Obama is to succeed he will need the goodwill, cooperation and military genius of the American men and women serving there. Right now President Obama is focused on the economy. But presidencies have a tendency to be defined by events a president may not anticipate. The AfPak war could grow to one to the defining elements of the Obama administration. That's why it's smart policy and smart politics for him to visit Iraq as America's commander in chief. Think of it as his goodwill tour to the military.

Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She ran for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2006. Her Web site is KTMcFarland.com.