Is Barack Obama about to change emphasis on Iraq? The foundation of his primary campaign was his 2002 prescience about the war and his opposition to the Senate vote, and he rallied crowds with his repeated and often unambiguous promises to withdraw combat troops quickly and without pause.

Here's Obama today:


“I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed,” he said. “And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.”



Always is an interesting word here. It's true that he has said what he says he said, and has said it for more than a year. But he hasn't always said it -- with "always" meaning on every occasion that he happened to mention troop withdrawals.

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.

One way to figure out what's going on is to look at the talking points the Obama campaign has sent to surrogates about Iraq. As of 7/3, those TPs say that Obama will "immediately" begin to withdraw combat troops. The TPs don't say anything about consulting with generals or facts on the ground.

Withdrawing from Iraq

* Throughout this campaign, Barack Obama has been clear and consistent in saying that we need to responsibly end the war in Iraq so that we can restore our military strength, finish the fight in Afghanistan and focus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11.

* Now, eleven months after Barack Obama called for more troops in Afghanistan, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supports that position—while pointing out once again that the war in Iraq is shortchanging our effort in Afghanistan.

Obama’s plan to end the war and bring our troops home

* Bringing Our Troops Home: As President, Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He’ll remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

* Press Iraq’s Leaders to Reconcile: The best way to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future is to make it clear that we are leaving. As we remove our troops, Obama will engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society—in and out of government—to seek a new accord on Iraq’s Constitution and governance.

* As Surge in Regional Diplomacy: Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq’s borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq’s sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction.

* Humanitarian Initiative: Obama believes that America has a moral and security responsibility to confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis—two million Iraqis are refugees; two million more are displaced inside their own country. Obama will form an international working group to address this crisis. He’ll provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.