Friday, July 04, 2008

Refining Into Mush

Sen. Barack Obama's position on Iraq depends on which adviser you listen to, or what day of the week it is. Since Obama no longer has to cater to the far left fringe of the Democrats, he can't use the defeat and retreat approach. However, he's still pushing for withdrawal.

The question now is what kind of withdrawal he wants, and how quickly. He doesn't want to tick off the independents and people who generally want the US to win the wars it fights, so he can't phrase his withdrawal in terms of defeat and loss.

That's getting him into trouble, especially as the situation in Iraq has changed so dramatically that victory appears in reach. 15 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress have been met, and more Iraqi provinces are now fully within the control of the Iraqi government, including Anbar province. It's forcing Obama to change tack, and he's got to walk the fine line between responding to changed circumstances and flip flopping.

He's not doing a very good job.
His two statements in Fargo, N.D., reflected how the changing dynamics in Iraq have posed a challenge for Mr. Obama, who is trying to retain flexibility as violence declines there without abandoning a central promise of his campaign: that if elected, he would end the war.

His remarks came as Republicans — including his all-but-certain opponent this fall, Senator John McCain of Arizona — have been arguing that Mr. Obama would most likely change his position on the phased withdrawal. They suggest that with violence dropping in Iraq, bringing the troops home would risk erasing the fragile gains that have been made.

Mr. Obama said at his first news conference on Thursday that he planned a “thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy when he visited that country this summer.

“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,” he said. “That assessment has not changed. 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.”

Mr. Obama has long spoken of consulting with commanders in the field as part of his plan for a phased withdrawal, but his shift in emphasis in the way he spoke about the situation on Thursday — after weeks in which Republicans and even an outside Iraq policy adviser to his campaign argued against a withdrawal along the lines he had proposed — fueled speculation that he might not be wedded to his timetable.
The Times is covering for Obama here, since Obama had pushed for a defeat and retreat withdrawal that would have seen the US leave before the surge even had a chance to take hold.

Voters should see Obama's foreign policy on Iraq for what it is - nothing short of sticking a finger in the air and seeing which way the wind blows.

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