Do the Netroots Get a Revote?
Barack Obama began -- in fits and starts -- to alter his stance on Iraq. It followed Obama's movement on a host of issues including FISA extension/immunity for telecom companies, NAFTA, public campaign financing, participation in town hall meetings, gay marriage, the payroll tax cap, and the Second Amendment. But this is his biggest reversal to date, both because of the magnitude of the issue and because it was a focal point of his primary campaign run.
On July 3 Obama offered up this:
My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything that I've said, was always premised on making sure that our troops were safe. I said that based on the information that we had received from our commanders that one to two brigades a month could be pulled out safely, from a logistical perspective. My guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable. I'm going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.
When that set off a media buzz, suggesting that Obama was finally abandoning his insistence on withdrawing a brigade or two a month, he retreated. He called a second presser to assure his base and the media that nothing was changing and he was "not searching for maneuvering room." Nevertheless, pundits and the McCain team went into overdrive, sensing that the moment had finally come when Obama was throwing his retreat-at-all-costs policy overboard. Some conservatives praised him for belatedly getting on board with an eighteen-month-old surge policy that had changed the landscape in Iraq and made a successful outcome possible.
But by Saturday, July 5, Obama was having second and third thoughts. He claimed to have been himself "puzzled" that anyone could have thought his Thursday comment a signal he was changing course and declared: "I don't think in anyway it is inconsistent with prior statements and doesn't change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I am going to end it as president."
Then last week he was reduced to pleading that he had not in fact changed position on Iraq or other topics. Although he hinted at a more flexible timetable in an interview with the Military Times, when before partisan audiences he reverted to his previous standard-fare language on an unequivocal withdrawal of troops in 16 months.
And now this week in the New York Times he attempted to set out his new policy. As Churchill said of Russia, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." He seems to acknowledge a downturn in violence yet is silent on the efficacy of the surge and of the political and military advances which the surge made possible. The 16-month withdrawal schedule is still there, but he now openly talks of a "residual force" which will remain. How large and for how long (Is it the 100 years for which he derided McCain?) we don't know. If not moving to embrace the McCain surge he clearly is scooting away from his hard and fast withdrawal pledge -- the very position which gained him the netroots' support in the primary.