Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obama on Iraq

I've heard whispers and rumors recently that Obama has somehow changed his position on Iraq. This is usually heard in connection with the idea that he is moving to the center, now that the primaries are done, in order to win the general election. I think that's ridiculously overblown, but, for this post, I'm going to focus on Iraq.

My favorite line from Obama about Iraq is that we have to be more careful getting out than we were getting in. He wants to remove troops at a rate of 1 to 2 brigades a month, and, at that pace, believes that we can get all American troops out in 16 months. That sounds reasonable to me. The point is getting them out. This is in sharp contrast with John McCain's plan, which is to stay until some undetermined time in the future.

Josh Marshall at TPM has a great post about this, where he draws a key distinction between strategy and tactics. To wit, the president sets the strategy, and then relies on his military officials to develop the tactics to achieve the strategy. Makes perfect sense to me. Josh:

I've listened to Obama's position on Iraq. He's been very clear through this year and last on the distinction between strategy and tactics. Presidents set the strategy -- which in this context means the goal or the policy. And if the policy is a military one, a President will consult closely with his military advisors on the tactics used to execute the policy.

This is an elementary distinction the current occupant in the White House has continually tried to confuse by claiming that his policies are driven and constrained by the advice he's given by his commanders on the ground. There's nothing odd or contradictory about Obama saying that he'll change the policy to one of withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq with a specific timetable but that he will consult with his military advisors about how best to execute that policy.
Josh also makes the point that political reporters can't seem to get this basic, fundamental point. TPM has a video of Obama at a press conference today, hammering home this point again and again and again.

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