Obama's Iraq Logic

Washington Matters

Obama's Iraq Logic

Barack Obama's taken some hard knocks on the flip-flop charge, and there are some new signs, such as the latest Newsweek poll showing a dead heat, that suggest the charge is sticking. On some issues -- notably the warrantless wiretap bill and public financing -- it's indisputable that Obama did reverse his earlier positions. But on Iraq, it's a considerably more complicated question.


Obama sought to clarify his position in an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, arguing that the


Some will say Obama is now returning to his original Iraq position after wavering earlier this month, but that's an unfair characterization. Unlike his recent decision to stay out of the public financing system (and the fund-raising and spending restrictions that go with it)  and his decision to back the wiretapping after long opposing it, his remarks on Iraq were hardly a dramatic shift. He stirred critics a month ago by saying he was open to "refining" his withdrawal plan on the basis of what he hears and sees when he visits Iraq in a few weeks. He has said the same perfectly logical thing all along. His pledges to withdraw have always included the warning that it must be done carefully and in consultation with military advisers, and it would make no sense to go to Iraq if he were precluding learning anything that might alter his views in any way.  You'd never know that from the howls his recent comments produced.


And what if Obama does end up "refining" his views? Why is the left so against that? As New York Times columnist Gail Collins pointed out in a brilliant piece last week, hasn't anyone been listening to Obama as he promises to work across the divisions in this country and come up with practical compromises? Do his supporters believe he can get anything accomplished if he doesn't move to the center? Do they believe he can bring the country together by forcing everyone else to move to his side?


Obama is also taking criticism from opponents on the right, who seem strangely annoyed when he moves in their direction, as though he's co-opting their positions. They claim that shows he doesn't stand for anything -- that he has no core principles.


Rubbish. It only shows that he's not the pure liberal they thought he was and that some wish he were. It shows a practical approach to issues that won't make everyone happy. But that's exactly the point. If we as a country are to move beyond the polarized standoff that we're stuck in, everyone has to be willing to move toward the center and be practical. That will be true no matter whether Obama or John McCain is president. So if you want change -- if you want to get out of this awful gridlock -- be a little more open minded.


Addendum:  Politifact has just published an examination of Obama's past and recent remarks on Iraq, and it, too, concludes there's been no change in his position. It's filled with quotes to support that view.