I'm relieved that he has shifted exactly as I hoped he would: to a pragmatic commitment to a withdrawal strategy that does not jeopardize the fragile and reversible gains of the last year or so. I don't see this as a U-turn, any more than I regard my own attempt to understand the situation in Iraq as best I can and to remain open to good, as well as bad, developments as some kind of flaw. Very few people foresaw the extent of the gains we have made this past year, in part because a new counter-insurgency had the luck to coincide with some real shifts among Sunni tribes and the Sadrite opposition. But facts change. Shouldn't tactical policy respond? I would never have felt that Obama would be a good president if I felt he'd stick to a position on an issue irrespective of empirical data. As long as the goal is total withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible, and the man doing it has the vital characteristic of having opposed the war in the first place, I'm fine with pragmatism. Any conservative should be.
And this shift is yet another instance of Obama's remarkably shrewd post-primary strategy. He is slowly undermining every conceivable reason to vote for McCain. If you want to withdraw from Iraq - as prudently as possible - Obama is your man. He won't risk chaos in a precipitous withdrawal regardless of the strategic and tactical situation. Unlike McCain, he is also unafraid of Baker-Hamilton diplomacy; and unlike McCain, he does not threaten a hundred years of occupation and the suspicion that he'd like the U.S. to stay there for ever. What can McCain say now? All he can say, I think, is that Obama is cynical. I don''t think that's fair: there's a distinction between cynical and pragmatic.
When you put this together with Obama's defusing of the patriotism issue and his brazen cooptation of Bush's faith-based social services policy, you see what a gifted strategist Obama is. And if you don't see the power of it, just check out the Bush-right blogs right now. They're veering between a splutter and a strange new respect.
(Photo: Hiroko Masuike/Getty.)