Obama, Iraq, and the Media

The New Republic takes the media to task for the way it’s framing Obama’s position on Iraq:

So Obama will listen to his generals and consider the facts on the ground before fully withdrawing from Iraq. OMG! WTF? Rick Klein of ABC News exclaimed, “There’s been lots of speculation this week about whether Barack Obama has an Iraq problem. He does now.” Time‘s Mark Halperin told Anderson Cooper, “This is one of the biggest things that’s happened so far in the general election.” 

Yes, it’s stop-the-presses enormous: Barack Obama has affirmed a position that he has held for months. Granted, the press was right to notice that Obama had shifted the accent in his Iraq talk–no doubt marketing himself to a broader audience. But the fine print of his pronouncements and policy papers has always contained nuances and caveats, reasons why he might slow down a pullout and keep troops in Iraq over a longer horizon. 
That flip-flopping has become the most damning accusation against a politician speaks to the poverty of the political process. Here’s how the system currently works: As candidates prepare to enter the race, they devise a foreign policy platform. Then, for the next two years, they must resolutely defend that platform. Any deviation from their original position papers will be treated by their opponents–and, in turn, by the press–as a deep character flaw, evidence that a candidate will do whatever it takes to win the presidency.

This is the fate that befell John Kerry, and it’s a particularly mindless dynamic. Foreign affairs, especially ongoing wars, are filled with twists and turns, many of which couldn’t possibly be predicted years out. Consider all the potential shifts that might take place within Iraq in the next six months: The Iraqi government could demand that the United States head for the exits; Iran could exact revenge for an Israeli strike by launching a wave of suicide attacks; the Iraqi sects could construct a new framework that moves the country substantially closer to political reconciliation. Nobody has a perfect record predicting the course of events in Iraq–and it’s absurd that candidates should be rewarded for sticking to stances conceived so long ago.

Michael Cohen adds:

… the person with the Iraq problem is John McCain. And it’s not because he’s a flip-flopper (whatever that incredibly silly expression actually means); it’s because he’s taken a position that is so out of touch with the current political reality in Iraq – namely staying in Iraq for potentially 100 years, which is completely unacceptable to the Iraqi leaders and their people.

Only in our screwed up political world can Barack Obama be criticized for adapting his Iraq position to changing facts on the ground while John McCain can bear no criticism for maintaining an Iraq policy that has little chance of being implemented and runs counter to not only the desires of the Iraqi leadership, but in fact his own Republican Administration.


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