Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama on Iraq

Curious what the right thinks about Barack Obama's campaign? Look no further than Charles Krauthammer's latest Washington Post column. Krauthammer, you see, is a little concerned that Obama is now wearing a flag pin. Obama famously did not wear one during his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton and was derided by the right for it. Now he's put one on and you'd think such simple and transparent gestures would assuaged critics like Krauthammer. Instead it is seen not a symbol of patriotism but of liberal flip-flopping.

Obama's reasons for not wearing a flag pin were not only sound, but actually excessively patriotic. A flag pin is, after all, literally the very least you can do to support your country and, after so much banality masquerading as love-of-homeland, and so much youthful support being abused by the draconian minds in the current administration, the lack of a shallow symbolism was a refreshing moment of sincerity and sanity.

But people like Krauthammer see it as the ultimate test. The wearing of a flag pin I mean. It's almost laughable to think how easy it would have been for Obama to have worn one the whole time, rendering the whole issue moot, while also pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. People demand an answer for Obama's blatant and insidious plans to subvert and destroy the country and I say if those were his goals, why not wear begin the undertaking by wearing the flag pin? Why draw any attention to a supposed lack of patriotism? Only someone completely secure in love of country would have the onions to take the pin off and ask the public to vote for him.

But anyway, I've already been drawn into the time honored conservative straw man argument--which is casting a non issue as a real issue and getting people to talk about it while the real issues go unchallenged.

Obama's flag pin reversal is just the proverbial tip of the waffling iceberg according to Krauthammer. There's also NAFTA renegotiations, future chats with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the supreme court handgun decision, and, of course, the dreaded campaign finance flip-flop, as if that is anything at all. Yes, it's true, I'm happy to concede that Barack Obama has raised so much money from so many people that he doesn't even need to use public funds to run his campaign. He can do without, because common people are sending him the money. No doubt he kept the public fund option open, but when he raised several bazillion dollars decided there was no need to take from charity.

But these things are just child's play. The real nub of the crux for Krauthammer is Obama's precarious stance on Iraq, an issue which came to fruition today when he said he may "refine" his pledge to pull troops from Iraq over a 16 month time span if elected. This was akin to throwing a slab of ribs to a pack of wild dogs, and the right went from deep sleep to full frothy leap in before the food had even hit the floor. Today they put up such mock outrage that Obama and to reconvene his press conference and stress his commitment to everyone that he was sticking to his original plan.

It's the "refining" idea that conservatives can't stand. Such a thing turns coservativism in its grave. It whips people on the right into a frenzy. The concept that as facts on the ground change and your opinion may also change just doesn't resonate with the flat earth society. Even bastions on the left are willing to concede that Iraq has made progress and maybe hasty withdrawals not be entered into rashly.

In this week's New Yorker George Packer writes that when Barack Obama originally laid out his 16 month plan "no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year."

The Iraqi turnaround has been, as Packer also points out, a mix of President Bush's surge, refined (yes, "refined") strategies in Iraq, the Sadr militia's cease fire, and turning the Sunnis against Al Qaeda. In light of recent success in Iraq, Packer suggests that Obama's original comments now seem "out of touch."

So here you have someone writing for publication with well known liberal leanings, suggesting that 1) Iraq has undergone some positive adjustments over the last 18 months and 2) a hasty withdrawal based on old realities may not be the right move at this time. Meanwhile, you have someone on the right insinuating that Obama reconsidering his timetable remarks is nothing less than the ultimate betrayal of public trust.

And so the climax of Krauthammer's column reads like this: "He [Obama] will use his upcoming Iraq trip to finally acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground and to formally abandon his primary season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops." And, believe me, the final few paragraphs show that Krauthammer doesn't mean this in a positive way.

And with that," he intones, "The Obama of the primaries, the Obama with last year's most liberal voting record in the Senate, will have disappeared into the collective memory hole."

Perhaps Obama will change his stand on Iraq, and maybe he should. I'm not acute enough to judge either move. However, if Obama does "acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground" wouldn't that be more or less a remarkable thing to do? In the hands of a lesser executive, would that not be political suicide? It would be, OMG, like a thousand unworn flag pins times a million!! It would be like George Bush suddenly saying that Al Gore has been correct about this climate change stuff and we need to plan accordingly.

Such things, of course, never happen on the right. Carbon footprints get bigger. Evidence to the contrary is not only ignored but re-worded. Stem cell research receives no new funding. Wars are waged with a hand waved at reconstruction planning. Liberties are struck down by a party mired in the past. And that's exactly why we have someone like Barack Obama. That's why he has raised more money from more people than any other candidate in history--because he seems to posses a little thing called judgment. He weighs facts and decides. The right calls it flopping. Most post-renaissance societies call it practical.

And I haven't even mentioned the right's champion, John McCain, a rock of political Gibraltar whose flip flopping and political posturing is so well known that mentioning his hit parade here would be not only redundant but borderline cruel and would probably single-handedly deflate the right's entire argument against Obama and liberals in one fell swoop. And what fun would that be? Besides, McCain gets a pass for being a maverick. And what's more, I don't even care if he changes his mind. He's a grownup.

That seems to me what life is about--you live it, you're exposed to new realities, and you adjust. Along those lines I can think of nothing more patriotic than to weigh evidence carefully, including alternative ideas, and judge accordingly, and enact the correct solution for the good of the country, no matter what the particular issue is, or what the political cost. Obama, from day one, seems to be willing to do this. It's also the very most Americans want. It's why Hillary lost.
It's what encapsulates people's "hope" in Obama. And it's also the thing which Republicans have not been doing for years.

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