Obama to ‘Refine’ Iraq Deadline, Keep it Exactly Same
Barack Obama gave a speech yesterday in which he said there was some flexibility in his plan, touted throughout the Democratic primary season, to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months followed by another speech in which he explained that he meant no such thing.
Michael Cooper and Jeff Zeleny have a solid summary and analysis piece for the NYT, headlined “Obama Strives to Retain Some Flexibility on His Iraq Policy”
Mr. Obama said at his first news conference that he planned a “thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy when he visits the country later 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.”
This drew some criticism . . .
So the Obama campaign hastily scheduled a second news conference to try to clarify his remarks. “We’re going to try this again,” Mr. Obama said. “Apparently, I wasn’t clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq.”
“Let me be as clear as I can be,” he said. “I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war — responsibly, deliberately, but decisively. And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades a month, and again, that pace translates into having our combat troops out in 16 months’ time.”
He added that when he had spoken about possibly refining his policies, he was referring to questions about how big of a residual force should be left behind to train Iraqi forces and conduct counterterrorism operations — not the overall timeline for withdrawal.
Jonathan Weisman gets page 1 of WaPo with a report titled “Obama May Consider Slowing Iraq Withdrawal.” He’s even more pointed:
Sen. Barack Obama raised the possibility of slowing a promised gradual, 16-month withdrawal from Iraq if he is elected president, saying that Thursday he will consult with military commanders on an upcoming trip to the region and “continue to refine” his proposals.
In a second, hastily convened news conference, Obama insisted that his policies have not changed, and that he has “not equivocated” or is not “searching for maneuvering room” on Iraq.
Weisman wrote almost the exact same piece for WaPo’s Trail blog under the presumably selected-by-him post title “Obama Softens on Iraq Withdrawal Timeline.”
Politico‘s Mike Allen (“Obama to ‘refine’ Iraq plan“) had the same take:
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Thursday backed off his firm promise to withdraw combat forces from Iraq immediately and instead said he could “refine” his plan after his trip to Baghdad later this month.
Zeleny, writing for the NYT Caucus blog (“Obama Might ‘Refine’ Iraq Timeline“), had this helpful info late last evening:
As a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama has not been known for holding an abundance of news conferences. That was not the case here on Thursday, when he called two in a span of four hours.
So what prompted him to call a second afternoon session to talk specifically about Iraq?
Mr. Obama was scrolling through news reports on his Blackberry — taking particular note of stories about his Iraq policy — when he told his advisers he wanted to better explain a statement he made earlier about continuing to “refine my policies” regarding a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Modern campaigning at its finest!
This back-and-forth prompted dozens of blogopsheric responses, holiday weekend or not. memeorandum has logged responses from TIME.com, TPM Election Central, Hot Air, Redstate, Macsmind, Taylor Marsh, Major Garrett’s Bourbon Room, Liberal Values, Sister Toldjah, THE LIBERAL JOURNAL, Talking Points Memo, The Moderate Voice, The Carpetbagger Report, Power Line, Eunomia, The New Republic, The Corner, The News Buckit, Hullabaloo, Gateway Pundit, protein wisdom, The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, The Impolitic, Truthdig, Real Clear Politics, Swampland, Weekly Standard Blog, Angry Bear, GOP.com, NO QUARTER, Pajamas Media, The Sundries Shack, TownHall Blog, TPM Election Central, Wake up America, Redstate, The New Republic, American Spectator, Washington Monthly, democracyarsenal.org, Soccer Dad, Pajamas Media, iowahawk, Hot Air, NewsBusters.org, Flopping Aces, Stop The ACLU, Open Left, The Jed Report, The American Mind, Patterico’s Pontifications, Obsidian Wings and The Swamp as I write at 6:30 on a holiday morning.
I’ve only clicked through and scanned a dozen or so of those but it seems that Republican-leaning bloggers think that this is “The Mother of All Flip Flops” whereas Democrat-leaning bloggers think this is just a sign that Obama’s a thoughtful guy who will listen to the experts on nuanced issues, unlike the evil BushCo who will never ever change their mind when presented with evidence.
For my part, nothing about Obama’s statements yesterday surprise me. I’ve long believed that the differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton and between the Democrats and John McCain on Iraq have been wildly overplayed to draw contrasts in the election. Obama would work harder for withdrawal than McCain, who would be more committed to finishing what we’ve started. Either, though, would face the same reality on the ground, the same domestic political pressure, and essentially the same advice from the Service chiefs and combatant commanders. Come 20 May 2010, the sixteenth month of the 44th presidency, we’ll most assuredly still have a significant combat contingency in Iraq, yet a smaller one than we now have.
Taylor Marsh, no Obama lover, reminds us that Obama has always hedged his bets on Iraq including telling the late Tim Russert, “I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013, but I don’t want to make promises, not knowing what the situation’s going to be three or four years out.”
Michael Cohen‘s response is more amusing:
I smell a rat here. Not that long ago the McCain folks were attacking Obama for sticking to a phased withdrawal and refusing to shift course based on the improved security situation in Iraq. So now he talks of refining his policy and they go nuts because he has “reversed” himself. Isn’t that what they wanted him to do? So which one is it – do the McCain folks want Obama to switch course or don’t they?
They do! They think Obama’s “new” position is much sounder public policy than the bumper sticker “out in 16 months” nonsense that he’s hammered to his core audience, despite repeatedly sending signals that his actual policy was more nuanced and reality-dependent. At the same time, changing positions, even slightly, on a core policy issue is something opposing campaigns always seize upon with glee.
Good public policy often isn’t good politics, for those reasons. Nuance is both more confusing and more subject to attack than bold pronouncements. Fundamentally, though, Hilzoy‘s right:
Obama is saying what he will do if he is elected. He won’t be able to do any of it until he takes office, nearly seven months from now (if he wins.) The situation in Iraq can change quickly and unpredictably. Moreover, in the nature of things, there is information about the situation there that he will only have access to once he takes office. 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.
Campaigns, however, aren’t philosophy seminars. You’re better off doing bumper stickers and bold pronouncements in your speeches and leaving the nuance and caveats for you white papers or, better yet, your advisers and surrogates.
Is that the way it ought to be? Perhaps not. But many of the people chiding the press and Republicans for making such a big deal of this are still flogging the McCain “100 years” horse, months after the meaning was clear.