O’Hanlon: Obama’s Iraq policy now “ambiguous”
posted at 5:10 pm on July 3, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
Barack Obama has begun his journey to the middle on Iraq, and in the process has made hash of the one position that opened the door to his nomination. Michael O’Hanlon told Fox News that his new position as stated in North Dakota contradicts his earlier position in a key point, and that the Obama position has been rendered “ambiguous”. While the Brookings Institute fellow predicted long-term political support, the problem is that the new policy makes no sense to either side of the debate:
O’Hanlon, in pre-taped interview with me earlier today, described Obama’s Iraq position as “ambiguous” because it defined a hard and measurable goal of withdrawing virtually all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months while at the same time saying Obama would consult with generals on the ground in Iraq for their opinion.
O’Hanlon told me these were positions at odds with one another because he said no general in Iraq now believes all combat brigades can be removed that rapidly without a sizable lose of stability in Iraq and without risking a possible resurgence of Al Qaeda activity or insurgent-fed violence.
O’Hanlon tried to call it an evolution rather than a flip-flop. However, Obama’s answer to Chris Wallace in April shows that the sudden concern over the advice of generals in Iraq represents a complete change from his earlier position:
WALLACE: I want to ask you about presidents and listening to generals. Petraeus, as I don’t have to tell you, is the architect of the troop surge, a strong advocate of our continued engagement in Iraq.
If you become commander in chief, and he says your plan to get out of Iraq is a mistake, will you replace him?
OBAMA: I will listen to General Petraeus given the experience that he has accumulated over the last several years. It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say.
But it is my job as president, it would be my job as commander in chief, to set the mission, to make the strategic decisions in light of the problems that we’re having in Afghanistan, in light of the problems that we are having in Pakistan, the fact that Al Qaida is strengthening, as our national intelligence estimates have indicated, since 2001.
And so we’ve got a whole host of tasks. And I’ve also got to worry about the fact that the military has no strategic reserve right now. If we have an emergency in the Korean peninsula, if we had an emergency elsewhere in the world, we don’t have the troops right now to deal with it.
And that’s not my opinion, that’s the…
WALLACE: So would you replace him or would you just say, “I’m the commander in chief, follow my order?”
OBAMA: What I would do is I would say — what I will do is say, “We have a new mission. It is my strategic assessment that we have to provide a time table to the Iraqi government. I want you to tell me how best to execute this new assignment, and I am happy to listen to the tactical considerations and any ideas you have, but what I will not do is to continue to let the Iraqi government off the hook and allow them to put our foreign policy on ice while they dither about making decisions about how they’re going to cooperate with each other.”
Obama made the point plain two months ago: the President sets the strategic goals, and the generals carry out his orders. Period, full stop, as Obama himself said in a speech this week. Now suddenly Obama has decided that he should listen to the generals before setting the strategic goals, which is not just a flip-flop, but really an opening for a full-fledged abandonment of the position that won him the support of the netroots and the nomination.
The question, of course, is why Obama didn’t bother to consult with these commanders before taking his public position on Iraq. He could have traveled to Iraq any time during the campaign, especially in April before emphasizing his withdrawal-at-all-costs policy on Fox News. Instead, he famously spurned the opportunity to do a joint briefing with John McCain and intimated that he didn’t need a briefing to understand the issue. Now, suddenly, he’s begun backpedaling even before he sets foot in Iraq.
Ambiguous? It’s a collapse. By emphasizing stability and moving away from even the 16-month plan he had cited as “responsible”, he has all but adopted the John McCain position of no withdrawal without victory. That, as Allahpundit noted, is good news for the war effort, but it exposes Obama as either a naif or a politician willing to sell his own grandmother for power — and perhaps both at the same time. With this reversal coming on top of the FISA reform flip-flop, he has completely thrown the netroots under the bus, along with MoveOn and Code Pink.
And, of course, it still leaves us with the essential question: whither Obama? Because if he can sell out his political allies this easily just to gain a few votes from the center, nothing would stop him from betraying his new policy stands once elected if he saw any personal political gain from doing so. Simply put, he can’t be trusted.
Obama painted himself as a New Politics statesman who didn’t play the Beltway game. Not only has he exposed himself as a charlatan to all sides now, he has no principles left on which to stand, and few friends left to defend him.