Obama's Triple Lindy: Iran, Iraq, and League of Democracies flip-flops

Barack Obama has returned to the no-preconditions policy for meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to Obama foreign-policy adviser Anthony Lake.  Financial Times also discovered in its interview with Lake that Obama has reversed himself on Iraq, now saying that the withdrawal is off.  Obama also now embraces John McCain’s call for a League of Democracies, despite his campaign’s rejection of it earlier this week:

Mr Obama and his advisers stress the Democratic candidate’s readiness to sit down with Iranian leaders without ­conditions.

“Unless you assume that [Iranian negotiators] have IQs less than those of eggplants, they are not likely to make major concessions for the privilege of speaking with us. So the question is: what is your strategy for the talks?” Mr Lake said. …

He stressed that Mr Obama, even after withdrawing troops from Iraq over 16 months as he has promised, would maintain “a residual presence for clearly defined missions”. These would include military training, and “preparedness to go back in if there are specific acts of genocidal violence”. …

Mr Lake was sympathetic to aspects of Mr McCain’s idea of a League of Democracies, one of the centrepieces of the Republican’s foreign policy plans.

So now we’re going to meet with Iran with no preconditions again?  Over the last three months, Obama and his team have tried to distance themselves in every way possible from his statements to this effect last year, by claiming that they would have “preparations” instead of preconditions — as if diplomats had never prepared for talks in the history of statehood.  When that failed, Obama tried claiming that it might not be Ahmadinejad on the other side of the table, which matters little in the Iranian mullahcracy — a point that anyone who has studied Iran in any depth would know.  Apparently, the campaign figures they’re better off defending the indefensible than engaging in a futile effort to redefine it.

On Iraq, the shift is a little more subtle.  Obama had sent the message early in the campaign that he would have a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and at the earliest possible moment.  In the last couple of months, that led to the 16-month timeframe, much longer than he implied while campaigning to the left of people like Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton.  Now he’s acknowledging that it won’t even be a complete withdrawal, making his policy sound very much like that of John McCain.  Just how large will the “residual forces” be?  And why would he pull out so many that he would risk the need to re-invade Iraq at a tremendous financial cost and a huge logistical effort?

The League of Democracies statement is an outright flip-flop from Monday.  His national-security adviser Richard Danzig had this to say about the idea:

Advisers to Barack Obama have also been critical of the proposal, saying it is an outgrowth of what they call the Bush administration’s “you’re either with us or against us” approach to foreign policy. “I don’t regard this idea as terribly attractive,” says Richard Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy and an Obama national security adviser. “It tends to emphasize the we-they character of the world, when in fact the world is more complicated than that.”

That’s three flip-flops in a single interview, an impressive feat.  In diving terms, it’s the Triple Lindy:

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