Senator Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot sustain a long-term military presence in Iraq, but added that he would be open to “refine my policies” about a timeline for withdrawing troops after meeting with American military commanders during a trip to Iraq later this month. ~The Caucus
The undesirable influence of Lippert seems to be growing ever greater. Meanwhile, the commanders “on the ground” (as opposed to where?) have made their predictable reappearance in Obama’s remarks:
And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.
At this rate, they will be refined right out of existence.
Tom Bevan correctly notes:
This is may not [be] a flip-flop by the technical definition of the term, but it certainly is a substantial walk back on perhaps the defining issue of the election that will draw fire from both the right and the left.
Obama does a lot of backward walking these days, and so it’s not surprising that he keeps tripping all over his own promises. Of course, there are two ways to look at this latest news: either Obama’s original antiwar stance was never very strong and any “refinements” he makes now are just small modifications to an originally weak position, or he has started yielding to the conventional wisdom that his position on Iraq has to change because of the “success” of the “surge” (whose success, as I have said before, might better described as failure). This either confirms that he was never much of an antiwar leader, or it means that he will align himself more and more with the Washington consensus the closer he comes to being elected.
Actually, there are three ways to look at this: there are these two interpretations, and the one that most Obama supporters will probably choose. According to the third view, this is proof that Obama is a pragmatist and open to evidence rather than someone who runs away from fights, avoids risk and eschews leadership. Then again, it is these latter qualities that usually give pragmatists such a bad name.
P.S. On Obama’s own campaign site, this is how they describe the relevant part of his position:
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.
Though it was never a full withdrawal position, at least it was something. It would appear that this is no longer the case.
Update: Ambinder adds some important detail:
One way to figure out what’s going on is to look at the talking points the Obama campaign has sent to surrogates about Iraq. As of 7/3, those TPs say that Obama will “immediately” begin to withdraw combat troops. The TPs don’t say anything about consulting with generals or facts on the ground.
Second Update: On cue, Sullivan says:
I don”t think that’s fair: there’s a distinction between cynical and pragmatic.
That’s true. “Pragmatic” is what a politician’s supporters call one of his cynical moves. The distinction is clear. There is another. Cynicism at least presupposes that all firm commitments and ideals are empty and meaningless. Pragmatism takes for granted that there are principled positions that the pragmatists refuse to adopt.