The last frontier of flip-flops approaches for Barack Obama, and even his surrogates can’t seem to guess which way the wind blows on any given day. In three different appearances over the last two days, David Axelrod, Susan Rice, and Claire McCaskill all offered competing visions of Obama’s policy on Iraq. First, we have Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, insisting that his January 2007 plan was still operative yesterday:
John Roberts: Let me turn to Iraq. It looks like we’re seeing a little bit of a modification of Senator Obama’s approach to troop withdrawals in Iraq. Susan Rice, his foreign policy adviser, recently said, quote, ‘He will redeploy our forces responsibly at a rate that our commanders say is safe and sustainable.’ David, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t talked about consulting commanders on withdrawal. Is this an indication that he may not stick with that original timetable he’s been talking about of 16 months to get all the forces out?
David Axelrod: John, with all due respect, on this, your knowledge doesn’t extend far enough. The fact is that, Senator Obama introduced a plan in the United States Senate in January of 2007 that called for a phased withdrawal, with benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, that called for strategic pauses, based on the progress on these benchmarks, and advice on the commanders on the ground and he’s always said that he would listen to the advice of commanders on the ground, that that would factor into his thinking. He’s also said we have to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. So he’s been very consistent on this point.
However, on the same day, Senator Claire McCaskill — Obama’s campaign co-chair — told MS-NBC that advice on the ground wouldn’t deflect Obama from his commitment to withdraw troops or change his plans at all:
Monica Novotny: In this week’s New Yorker, George Packer writes about Obama’s original withdrawal plan in the context of what we’re now seeing as a relative stabilization in parts of Iraq. He writes about Obama, ‘He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded al Qaeda in Iraq, re-energize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November.’ Will he?
Sen. McCaskill: No. He will not.
The day before, Obama’s foreign-policy adviser Susan Rice insisted that Obama will be flexible and change direction if conditions on the ground warrant it:
He has said that the best military advice he’s received leads us to believe that we can safely withdraw our forces at the pace of one to two combat brigades per month, and depending on the number of combat brigades he inherits, our best estimate is that that could be accomplished in roughly 16 months. That’s not a deadline. That’s a timetable, and obviously if Senator Obama has said on numerous occasions, he will listen to his commanders on the ground, he will follow and heed their advice as he decides how at the strategic level we must proceed. So he will do this very carefully and responsibly as he always said but he will do it.
What does it say about the candidate when even his closest advisers have no consistent idea what he represents? Barack Obama has now committed so many reversals, obfuscations, and rhetorical parsings that he now stands for nothing — only himself. Even his surrogates can’t get his story straight; how are voters supposed to decide what he believes?