Buyer’s Remorse?

You have to wonder whether a lot of Democrats who voted for Barack Obama on the theory that he was a staunch antiwar candidate are feeling had. During the primary season, his position on Iraq was unequivocal. This statement is still up on 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.

But, like everything Obama says–remember that word, “everything”–his Iraq position was subject to being rendered inoperative. That time has now come. Later this month, Obama will visit Iraq. Today he laid the groundwork for a reversal of his long-stated determination to withdraw, based on what he learns there:

As he arrived for a campaign stop in North Dakota, Mr. Obama told reporters on Thursday that he intended to conduct “a thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy during a forthcoming trip to the country. He stressed that he has long called for a careful and responsible withdrawal of American forces, but he declined to offer a fresh endorsement of his plan to remove one to two combat brigades a month.

“My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything that I’ve said, was always premised on making sure that our troops were safe,” he said. “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.”

He added, “I’m going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.”

That represents an inversion of Obama’s position in the primaries, which was that Iraq was not stable and could not be made stable–it was in the midst of a civil war, remember? An hour or so ago, after he started taking heat today for backing off the trademark stand that won him the Democratic nomination, Obama denied that he had changed anything at all:

Senator Barack Obama held a second news conference today to address criticism that an earlier statement that he would be open to “refine” his policies, signaled a softening of his stance on troop withdrawl from Iraq.

“I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived,” Mr. Obama said. “That it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end. I have also said that I would be deliberate and careful in how we got out. That I would bring our troops home at a pace of one to two brigades a month and at that pace we would have our combat troops out in 16 months. That position has not changed. I have not equivocated on that position. I am not searching for maneuvering room with respect to that position.”

Obama will continue to drift centerward over the next four months. By November, his position on Iraq will be hard to distinguish from John McCain’s. Both candidates will say that we want to get our troops out as soon as possible, but should only do so at a pace that does not endanger Iraq’s hard-won stability. This, by the way, is why the Democrats are so determined to peddle the myth that McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years. That’s dumb, obviously. McCain, like President Bush, would like nothing better than to bring our troops home. But the Obama camp needs to distract attention from the fact that Obama’s current position on the war represents an admission that McCain was right all along.

If the candidates’ positions on Iraq not only converge between now and November, but are widely seen as converging, Iraq may be largely taken off the table as an issue, and the election will be won by the candidate who most vigorously advocates drilling for oil and natural gas.

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