Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The Financial Times tracks Barack Obama's carefully parsed language on the meaning of "withdrawal":
US presidents have a history of abandoning campaign promises by pointing out that “the world looks different from here” when they reach the Oval Office. A growing number of Democratic foreign policy wonks are hoping that Barack Obama will do just that with his Iraq election promises if he wins the race for the White House in November...
Senior advisers to Mr Obama say the campaign is constantly monitoring and debating its response to the situation on the ground in Iraq. But they say that Mr Obama has no plans to modify his timetable for US troop withdrawal. However, Mr Obama and some of his most senior foreign policy advisers have been dropping tantalising hints that there might be a new flexibility over their definition of “withdrawal”.
Mr Obama, who has constantly said he would be “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in”, has already modified his commitment once. He began his campaign in early 2007 promising total withdrawal. Now he promises a withdrawal of all US combat forces, which leaves room for thousands – possibly tens of thousands – of US troops to stay behind.
Colin Kahl, a national security professor at Georgetown who is Mr Obama’s Iraq policy co-ordinator, wrote a paper in April suggesting the US should leave a “residual” force of 60,000 to 80,000 troops – far below the current 150,000 but much higher than the anti-war Democratic base would wish.
These would include counter-terrorism forces, military training personnel, force protection units and a regional “over-watch” group probably based in Kuwait that could return quickly if the possibility of genocide arose.
Mr Kahl was quick to point out that his paper was written independently of the Obama campaign. The campaign was also quick to distance itself from comments made by Samantha Power, Mr Obama’s former policy adviser, who told the BBC that the world – and Iraq – might well look different to a President Obama in January 2009.
Then last week Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said that he had come away from a telephone conversation with Mr Obama feeling reassured that the Democratic candidate would “not take any drastic decisions, or reckless actions” with the US troop presence in Iraq. The Obama campaign disputed some aspects of the conversation.
Mr Obama frequently points out that he will consult US commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government about his withdrawal plans. “We have a great deal of flexibility about the modalities of the withdrawal but we are clear that it will take place under an Obama administration,” said a senior Obama adviser.
With Obama, there are always rubes to be fooled. I certainly hope that on matters of Iraq policy the rubes are on the anti-war left.
Mr Obama, who has constantly said he would be “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in”.
The United State dedicated itself to regime change in Irag in 1998, due in part to their WMD program. If the 5 years of analysis, debate, preparation, legal maneuvering and voting for approval before the invasion in 2003 is characterized by Obama as "careless" then there is little he says that we can believe.
What are the political consequences for a President Obama in 2009 if he simply stands pat or makes some token drawdowns that the generals have already asked for? Does anyone really believe Obama's base will abandon him in the first year of his presidency? He just opted out of a public financing system that was, in theory, at least a little bit important to his base, and was applauded for it on Huffpo and DKos (admittedly it is not an issue as important to those folks as immediate and unconditional surrender everywhere). And, it's not as if the Republicans would criticize his hesitancy to rush to the exit door in Iraq. In 2009, can't he just do whatever the heck he wants to do, just like right now?