It feels a little absurd to me to need to be parsing speeches this closely to figure out where candidates actually stand on the most pressing issue of the day, but I think Obama's Iraq speech yesterday contained a small-but-significant shift in his stance on residual forces:
We will need to retain some forces in Iraq and the region. We'll continue to strike at al Qaeda in Iraq. We'll protect our forces as they leave, and we will continue to protect U.S. diplomats and facilities. If--but only if--Iraq makes political progress and their security forces are not sectarian, we should continue to train and equip those forces. But we will set our own direction and our own pace, and our direction must be out of Iraq. The future of our military, our foreign policy, and our national purpose cannot be hostage to the inaction of the Iraqi government.
The key shift here being that the training mission should continue "if -- but only if -- Iraq makes political progress and their security forces are not sectarian." In other words, in the real world, the training and equipping mission will not continue but if a miraculous pony happens to emerge then that's a different story. This is correct and General Petraeus' testimony and the renewed evidence on the centrality of political progress is as good a time as any for Democrats to follow the Center for American Progress' lead and reject unconditional training of Iraqi forces. This is different from my best understanding of what Hillary Clinton's proposing.
Meanwhile, this idea about the need to keep American forces in Iraq to fight AQI seems misguided to me, but I don't think it's nearly as significant as the training issue since it's the difference between a limited involvement in a specific mission in Iraq and a deep entanglement with all of that country's political problems.
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