Obama does a lot of backward walking these days, and so it’s not surprising that he keeps tripping all over his own promises. Of course, there are two ways to look at this latest news: either Obama’s original antiwar stance was never very strong and any “refinements” he makes now are just small modifications to an originally weak position, or he has started yielding to the conventional wisdom that his position on Iraq has to change because of the “success” of the “surge” (whose success, as I have said before, might better described as failure). This either confirms that he was never much of an antiwar leader, or it means that he will align himself more and more with the Washington consensus the closer he comes to being elected.
So there may be a change of emphasis, rather than a change of position, consonant with the facts on the ground -- which is, to Obama's credit, what he, in more reflective moments, said he would base his Iraq policy on. But it's also clear that Obama wants to make sure the contrast between himself and John McCain is sharp.
Basically, unless Obama comes out and says something like "I'm a totally unreasonable person whose views on Iraq will in no way be influenced by anyone's advice or any possible factual developments" he's now a flip-flopper.
These strike me as less a signal of a coming change in his position on withdrawal and more like a combined effort to defuse the charge that he'll withdraw recklessly and to preserve flexibility as commander in chief.
Obama’s rightward lurch since the end of the primaries is really an astonishing display of cynicism. It is an old cliché that presidential candidates play to the base during the primaries and then run to the center in the general election, but I don’t know when we’ve seen nearly as clear and shameless an example as we are now witnessing with Obama. If you actually look at the last few decades of presidential elections, most candidates have not been all that different before and after clinching the nomination. Bush was a "compassionate" conservative in both cases, Clinton was a new Democrat in both, and the senior George Bush and Ronald Reagan certainly didn't attempt any huge changes in persona either. Surely none have reversed themselves on quite as many prominent issues quite as quickly as Obama: from trade to wiretapping, gun control to Iraq.
For Obama to say that he knows for sure, right now, exactly what he will do, in every detail, and that neither the advice he receives from the commanders on the ground nor anything that happens in the intervening months could possibly change his mind, would be idiotic. Politically expedient, perhaps, but idiotic nonetheless.
Saying that he will be open to advice and new information, however, is not the same as saying that his fundamental views on Iraq are open to change, absent some genuinely unpredicted and catastrophic development. It's one thing to be open to a somewhat different pace for troop withdrawal, and another thing altogether to change your mind about the wisdom of getting out of Iraq in the first place. But I honestly don't see where Obama got near saying he was open to changing his mind on that score, even before he held the second press conference, at which he explicitly denied this.
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