In fairness to The One and as duly noted by the Times, he’s always distinguished between combat troops, whom he insists will be withdrawn within 16 months, and residual forces, whose deployment would be “entirely conditions-based” and whom one of his advisors said could number as high as 80,000. It wasn’t a question of the rhetoric being inconsistent; the question was whether he was on the level or whether, as many leftists doubtless assumed, he was saying what he had to say to get elected.

The Times, a tear in its eye, comes to a painful conclusion:

That status-of-forces agreement remains subject to change, by mutual agreement, and Army planners acknowledge privately that they are examining projections that could see the number of Americans hovering between 30,000 and 50,000 — and some say as high as 70,000 — for a substantial time even beyond 2011

There always was a tension, if not a bit of a contradiction, in the two parts of Mr. Obama’s campaign platform to “end the war” by withdrawing all combat troops by May 2010. To be sure, Mr. Obama was careful to say that the drawdowns he was promising included only combat troops. But supporters who keyed on the language of ending the war might be forgiven if they thought that would mean bringing home all of the troops.

Pentagon planners say that it is possible that Mr. Obama’s goal could be accomplished at least in part by relabeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be “re-missioned,” their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis…

To date, there has been no significant criticism from the antiwar left of the Democratic Party of the prospect that Mr. Obama will keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for at least several years to come.

“The strategy of declaring defeat in Iraq and blaming Bush seems to have gone by the boards,” notes Maguire, drily. “Re-missioning” sounds smart too, since so many “combat” troops are already serving as de facto peacekeepers; better to have trainers there with combat experience, who can double as a rapid response force if things get hairy, than a squad of pure advisors. Exit question: Assuming the Times is right about Obama leaving tens of thousands of troops in place beyond 2011, when can we expect the left to stir? Exit answer, assuming security gains are preseved: Never — because McCain’s much-maligned “100 years” comment was entirely true. It’s not the occupation, it’s the casualties. So long as casualties are low, Americans won’t hassle him. Especially Americans eager to see The One push through his domestic agenda.

Tags: Barack Obama