Shocking. Not that he’d insist he was right all along, all evidence to the contrary — a hallmark of the Iraq debate on both sides — but that he’d offer such a feeble defense. What can this possibly mean?

Q: If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?

A: No, because, keep in mind that…

Q: You wouldn’t?

A: Keep in mind… These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult. Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that, what I’m absolutely convinced of, is that at that time we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.

There’s more to his answer but they cut him off there; the rest, hopefully, will be played on Nightline. It sounds like he’s heading towards some Kanjorski-esque theory here by which the Democrats actually deserve partial credit for the surge by spooking Bush with threats of defunding the war. If they hadn’t lit a fire under his ass, you see, he wouldn’t have been motivated to do exactly the opposite of what they wanted him to do. Or maybe I’m misreading him, and indeed all he’s saying is that hindsight is 20/20? We’ll find out later. A better answer would have been, “No, because Iraqi security isn’t worth any more American lives.” Which is not to be confused with the correct answer, “No, because I wouldn’t have been nominated if I did.”

That exchange comes at the end of the segment. The beginning is devoted to his meeting of the minds with Petraeus, in which he spins their disagreement about a timetable very cleverly by insisting that the brass in Baghdad is focused laser-like on Iraq whereas he, the would-be C-in-C, has to consider both theaters of the war on terror. Or rather, it would be very clever if not for the fact that Petraeus happens to be the newly appointed commander of Centcom and thus is thinking about the same regional strategic picture Obama is. He knows the stakes in Afghanistan, Barry. That doesn’t make a fixed timetable any less of a bad idea. Click the image to watch.

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Update: Sounds like he and Maliki weren’t perfectly in sync on a timetable either:

Obama said that during their discussion, Maliki spoke about the need for a time frame for withdrawal, “but his view is he wants some flexibility in terms of how that’s carried out.”

Obama also said the Maliki feels his government is ready to exercise more sovereignty.

What the hell was the big to-do this weekend about, then? If Maliki’s not pushing a (mostly) hard-and-fast 16-month timetable, then he’s back at the same vague “time horizons” position he’s been at for the past two weeks.

Update: Marc Ambinder must have gotten a sneak preview of the Nightline segment because he has quotes from Obama admitting that he was wrong about the effectiveness of the surge that I can’t find anywhere else. Note this:

“But,” asked Moran,”if the country had pursued your policy of withdrawing in the face of this horrific violence, what do you think Iraq would look like now?”

Obama said it would be hard to speculate. “The Sunnis might have made the same decisions at that time. The Shii’as might have made some similar decisions based on political calculation. There was ethnic cleansing in Baghdad that actually took the violence level down,” he said.

Reserve judgment until we see the full clip on Nightline.

Update: From the Times, reality bites:

After meeting with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Obama met with Mr. Hashimi in his spacious, ornate house in the Green Zone for about 45 minutes. Beforehand, Mr. Obama said he was “pleased with the progress taking place” in Iraq and said that it was his impression that among Iraqis there was “more optimism about what is happening.”

“You see the activity taking place, the people in the shops, the traffic on the streets, clearly there’s been an enormous improvement,” he said.