Unlike Kelley I don’t think that Obama, Biden and their advisors were spooked by the Republicans on the issue of the surge. It’s clear to me that since getting chummy with Petraeus in Iraq and on Iraq, Obama has gradually been co-opted by Washington’s foreign policy consensus whose members succeeded in creating the impression that we were witnessing the evolution of a foreign policy convergence and there isn’t really much difference between McCain and Obama on Iraq.
A good example of this conergence theory was Walter Russell Mead’s Obama the Irony Man in which he argued that
In the midst of a bitter political year, a loose bipartisan consensus on the Mideast may be emerging. And, irony of ironies, the consensus, seemingly embraced by Obama, seems closer to Bush’s views than to those of the antiwar activists who propelled the Illinois senator to the nomination.
And here’s what that consensus says, according to Mead:
On the war on terrorism: The terror threat is real, and we can’t prevail by just fighting defense. Ultimately, we have to take this war home to the people who made it, and that means the caves of Afghanistan—and any place in Pakistan that the Pakistanis cannot secure on their own. The military budget will grow; the U.S. presence in Central Asia will increase, at least for now. This is similar to what a Bush White House would do in a third term.
On Iraq: Bush screwed up the war in many ways. But we cannot afford to let hostile forces control this strategic country, nor can we allow Iraq to sink into genocidal strife. We will not leave Iraq like we left Vietnam. Here too Obama’s current stance is, in practical terms, very close to Bush’s.
On Israel/Palestine: Continuity is the theme once again. Although the U.S. must bring new energy and determination to resolve this dispute, we can’t and won’t throw Israel under the bus. Israel’s confidence in U.S. foreign policy remains a vital asset; to lose it would diminish the chances for peace.
On Iran: Intensive multilateral diplomacy, including direct U.S.-Iranian talks when appropriate, is our preferred strategy to keep Tehran from building a bomb. We are willing, even eager, to live in peace with a non-nuclear Iran. The next president will have to pursue negotiations while considering all the options—a policy that represents, at most, a small evolutionary change from the current Bush position.
And we probably could add Georgia to this list.
The result is that Obama has lost the advantage he had on McCain on Iraq and foreign policy. My guess is that most liberal anti-war types will still vote for him. But the convergence has made it difficult for Obama to exploit the anti-war sentiments among the Hillary Voters, blue-collar workers and other members of anti-elite and anti-cosmopolitan crowd.
Add since I don’t expect Obama to turn into a populist class warrior, it seems to me that Obama’s message of change looks now more like change than the revolution that some angry voters were expecting and who amay now be attracted to Palin and to the Us vs. Them message.