July 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Barack Obama is reconsidering his plan to unilaterally withdraw from Iraq, which is a smart move, given the great progress that we have been making in that war-torn nation over the past year. In a speech in North Dakota (!), he said that his "guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable," while reevaluating the situation periodically. See Washington Post. (I should note that, to a large extent, those two goals clash with each other; that is, keeping our troops safe means keeping the Iraqi people less safe.) Obama's shift is part of an aggressive strategy aimed at courting voters who would ordinarily lean toward the Republican side. During the primary campaign, Obama had highlighted his plan to phase out the U.S. troop presence in Iraq over a 16-month period. In essence, that would amount to a strategic retreat under the premise that there is no reasonable hope for anything close to victory. If we are indeed losing, why prolong the inevitable? If there were no tangible signs of progress after the "surge," such a position would be the only logical course to take, painful though it might be.
But the problem for Obama is that our forces have stabilized Iraq to a large extent, that the Iraqi government is standing on its own two feet, and this strategic gain has caused positive spillover effects for U.S. diplomacy in other parts of the Middle East region. (Condoleezza Rice is getting the Israelis and Palestinians back to the bargaining table, and even Syria is negotiating with Israel over Lebanon and other matters.) Is Obama going to forfeit all of that just to abide by his earlier campaign pledges? NO!
In coming months, we look forward to Senator Obama changing his tune on nationalizing health care and meeting face to face with foreign dictators. As long as his policy shifts are consistent with the national interest, which generally speaking means a more conservative direction, there is no reason to criticize him for "flip-flopping," as some pundits have done.
* (See Part I on June 20.)