Obama Tries Rewriting History

One of my favorite books is Virtual History, a somewhat dry but entertaining book containing a series of essays by noted British historians who flesh out counterfactual scenarios for several historical events. I love these "what if" books because, as the editor of Virtual History, Niall Ferguson, points out in introducing the essays, counterfactualism attempts to destroy the notion that history is a deterministic enterprise, that changing a few events or the absence of some giant personality could very well alter the way a specific historical event turned out, thus affecting the unfolding of a future timeline.

I guess serious historians are less enthusiastic about counterfactuals, but for me it is comforting to think that humans have some control over their own destiny after all.

For generations, novelists -- especially science fiction writers -- have had a field day with these kinds of alternate history scenarios. The most prolific writer of this genre by far has been Harry Turtledove, whose inventive mind has conjured up alternate histories involving the south winning the civil war, the American revolution never happening, and the Nazis winning World War II.

Now Senator Barack Obama has his own entry in the alternate history universe. Apparently, the Democratic nominee for president isn't satisfied with promulgating linear history to explain his position on Iraq. Instead, he has hit upon the novel notion that by substituting "what if" questions and extrapolating a new timeline, he can have his cake and eat it too with the voter.

For instance, Obama asks, "What if instead of saying this in January, 2007 ...":

We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don't know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.

"I had said this?": (January 5, 2008, at a Democratic debate)

I had no doubt, and I said when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.

Obviously, Obama's "what if" question in this instance would have saved him from charges of either flip-flopping or not knowing what he's talking about.

Similarly, what if instead of saying this on November 11, 2007:

Finally, in 2006-2007, we started to see that, even after an election, George Bush continued to want to pursue a course that didn't withdraw troops from Iraq but actually doubled them and initiated a surge and at that stage I said very clearly, not only have we not seen improvements, but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.

He actually said what he wrote in the New York Times on Monday, July 16:

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected al-Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

By positing a counterfactual explanation of history for his flip-flops, Obama can be held blameless. This is especially true if you not only seek to alter what you said, but scrub the historical record by eliminating all vestiges of the offending statements which would give rise to the charges in the first place.

This is a favorite literary device of science fiction writers who employ the well-known time travel paradox that begs the question if you went back in time and murdered your father, how could you be born? Obama's answer to the paradox is to kill the father and then be miraculously reborn as if dad had never existed:

Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, the Daily News has learned.

The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a "problem" that had barely reduced violence.

"The surge is not working," Obama's old plan stated, citing a lack of Iraqi political cooperation but crediting Sunni sheiks -- not U.S. military muscle -- for quelling violence in Anbar Province.

The News reported Sunday that insurgent attacks have fallen to the fewest since March 2004.

Obama's campaign posted a new Iraq plan Sunday night, which cites an "improved security situation" paid for with the blood of U.S. troops since the surge began in February 2007.

It praises G.I.s' "hard work, improved counterinsurgency tactics, and enormous sacrifice."

Campaign aide Wendy Morigi said Obama is "not softening his criticism of the surge. We regularly update the Web site to reflect changes in current events."