Don't Hammer Obama for 'Refining' Iraq Stance

On October 2, 2002, Marilyn Katz and Carl Davidson, graying Marxist radicals and former members of the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), organized a small anti-war rally at Federal Plaza in Chicago to rail against a pending conflict with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Jesse Jackson was the headliner of the event, but a little-known Illinois state senator also spoke in front of the small crowd, protesting the pending conflict in Iraq, stating, "I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is dumb wars."

That speaker, Barack Obama, rode his 2002 anti-war speech to prominence, and it was Obama's unwavering position against the war that formed the core of his support that helped propel him to success in his 2004 U.S. Senate run.

Obama collected the Democratic presidential nomination with the support of the left wing of the Democratic Party by declaring his intentions to remove "one to two combat brigades each month," with the goal of having "all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." It is a timeline that is logistically possible, though arbitrary and determined by domestic American political expediency, not by the security and political situation on the ground in Iraq, the advice of coalition military commanders, or the will of the Iraqi and regional governments concerned that instability caused by a headlong retreat could trigger a larger regional war.

Speaking in Fargo, ND, on Thursday, Obama caused an uproar when he stated during a rare press conference that he will "continue to refine" his policies regarding an Iraqi withdrawal.

Some in the media quickly claimed that softening of his rhetoric as proof he "backed off" his position, while progressive bloggers are publicly arguing that this was always part of his plan, and conservatives quickly noted the statement is yet another lurch to the political center, away from a radicalized base that helped him win the nomination but which cannot deliver him the presidency.

Both sides declared Obama a political opportunist. Roundly criticized from both the right and left for opening himself to the possibility of adopting a position based upon what is best for the Iraqi people, Obama scrambled to call a second press conference, where he seemed to retreat to the long-held position posted upon his website:

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will 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.

While Obama's migration to the political center on a whole raft of issues in recent days does indeed show opportunism by Obama, attacking Obama for flip-flopping on his core issue may not have been the best option undertaken by Republicans.