The neocons and their media enablers are in attack mode, decrying Barack Obama’s "flip-flop" on the Iraq war. The War Street Journal avers that it’s the Audacious One, rather than the GOP nominee, who’s running for "Bush’s third term." The oracular Charles Krauthammer is predicting that the candidate’s upcoming Iraqi trip will be the occasion for him "to formally abandon his primary season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops." The Politico, for its part, is "reporting" that Obama has "backed off his firm promise to withdraw combat forces from Iraq immediately and instead said he could ‘refine’ his plan after his trip to Baghdad later this month." To make matters worse, all too many of Obama’s left-wing fans are livid at this alleged "move to the center," with Arianna Huffington always in the vanguard of the most facile, simple-minded memes at the head of the pack:
"Last Friday afternoon, the guests taking part in Sunday’s roundtable discussion on This Week had a pre-show call with George Stephanopoulos. One of the topics he raised was Obama’s perceived move to the center, and what it means. Thus began my weekend obsession. If you were within shouting distance of me, odds are we talked about it. I talked about it over lunch with HuffPost’s D.C. team, over dinner with friends, with the doorman at the hotel, and the driver on the way to the airport."
Yes, you can just hear her, can’t you, chattering away to that poor doorman, and anyone else within earshot, about her latest "obsession," which, not coincidentally, crystallizes the conventional neoconish wisdom into a single Hollywoodish bromide: Obama, says La Huffington, is "watering down" his "brand." He’s classic Coke suddenly turned to Pepsi, or, God forbid, even root beer! Will somebody puh-leeze call that waiter over here!
There’s something pretty funny about an Obama supporter talking about politics in such a cynical, manipulative manner, but then again Arianna has never really gotten it: aside from lacking any sense of irony, she’s so tied in to the tired old Left/Right, blue state/red state paradigm (it’s her meal ticket, after all) that any deviation from that archaic script sends her careening into hysterics.
What passes for the Left these days is up in arms over Obama’s alleged reversals on gun control, late-term abortions, FISA, and a host of other issues, yet this air of wounded outrage has about it a distinctly phony air. As for FISA, Obama argues, plausibly, that it’s a necessary compromise, and he at least engages his disappointed supporters on the subject directly. And since when has Obama ever been a champion of third-trimester abortions and why is that a litmus test of leftist purity? As for praising the recent Supreme Court decision on the District of Columbia’s gun ban, maybe he thinks he has a personal stake in this issue, seeing as he spends so much of his time in the District and will probably be moving there come November. They say he’s "moving to the center," but this assumes that he wasn’t there all along and that the lefties weren’t just deceiving themselves, and simultaneously echoing the neocons’ propaganda that he’s a kooky "radical."
What really underscores the utter falsity of this nonsense is the accusation that Obama is shifting his stance on Iraq, waiting for the chance to carry out "Bush’s third term." The Politico, even as it repeated this baseless charge, somehow felt obliged to report the actual facts:
"At the second meeting with reporters, Obama said: ‘We’re going to try this again. Apparently I wasn’t clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq.
I have said throughout this campaign that
I would bring our troops home at a pace of one to two brigades per month and at that pace we would have our combat troops out in 16 months. That position has not changed. I have not equivocated on that position. I am not searching for maneuvering room with respect to that position.
“‘What I said this morning and what I will repeat because it’s consistent with what I’ve said over the last two years is that in putting this plan together, I will always listen to the advice of commanders on the ground, but that ultimately, I’m the person who is making the strategic decisions.'”
That ought to be clear enough: the president sets policy, while the commanders on the ground set tactics. This is just elementary common sense, as most voters will no doubt conclude not that many of them are paying the least bit of attention to this media tempest in a teapot.
What’s so phony about this summer-doldrums controversy is that Obama never committed to "immediate" withdrawal from Iraq, whatever that means. Almost nothing in this life is immediate in the sense Obama’s critics, Left and Right, mean, and certainly not when we’re talking about troop movements, which must be planned and coordinated in order to maximize protection and defense of military personnel and assets.
Besides, it’s a little rich to be hearing this from none other than the Republican National Committee. If they really believe Obama is inching toward their own indefensible defense of the war, then surely they ought to be lauding him and opining that he must move "faster, please!"
The Democratic candidate has committed himself to what used to be a "radical" position: a specific timeline, approximately 16 months in length, in which he’ll get us out of Iraq. Yet to argue that he cannot alter the specifics without also altering his overall plan is nonsense, from the perspective of the antiwar movement, because this means he can’t get out sooner, either. Obama has always said he’d take into account the advice and firsthand knowledge of the military in accomplishing his overarching task. Far from being a reversal on Iraq, his recent pronouncements reaffirm and strengthen his promise to get us out.
A favorite and by now quite threadbare canard spread by the War Party is that anyone who doesn’t advocate teleporting the troops out of Iraq, as in an episode of Star Trek, is somehow acknowledging that we have to stay, after all, and "finish the job." The reality, however, is that the War Party got us into this mess, and there will be no easy way of getting out of it while still retaining the political support necessary to do so.
I’ll readily admit there is something awfully mealy-mouthed about saying that we have to extract ourselves "responsibly" from the impossible situation the War Party has put us in. What the heck does that mean? Anything and everything. However, no one wants us to act irresponsibly in correcting the biggest blunder in U.S. military history which is precisely the point the Obamaniacs have been making, and rightly so.
This sudden burst of chatter that is supposed to establish the "fact" that Obama has substantially altered his position on the war is coming from two places: the neocons and the official Left. Funny how that works. It’s the first clue that the charge is a canard, pure and simple, spread by neocons of various colorations to somehow dress up a major defeat in the raiment of "victory." The great issue of this campaign is the war. The collapsing economy merely provides a useful backdrop against which to illustrate the point that the spreading conflict is draining us economically, morally, and in every other conceivable way. Obama, to his credit, seems to realize this. His nomination and election will augur hard times for the War Party, for the very idea of "change" in the post-9/11 era means a major shift away from the politics of fear and perpetual war and toward a new politics that challenges the orthodoxies of "Left" and "Right."
Even if Obama doesn’t fully deliver, the mere expression of that promise represents a threat to the Grand Consensus that "politics stops at the water’s edge," which has suffocated any real debate over U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II. The decline and fall of that consensus is what the War Party rightly fears.
I have been critical of Obama, specifically his foreign policy stances, and will continue to call him out when he’s wrong. Yet in this crucial instance, he is so far walking the walk and antiwar voters can only cheer him on. Like "Lifelong Nebraska Republican David Sayers," cited by The Politico as exemplifying what they call the "Obamacan" phenomenon:
"The Republican Party has lost its soul. It’s no longer the party of Goldwater. For years, it was about small government, low taxes, fiscal responsibility. Foreign policy was always about, ‘Look after ourselves first and humanitarian outreach second,’ but it was never about having our own Roman Empire. I see Obama as the Democratic Ronald Reagan someone who can really bring us together and heal us as a nation. In the long term, a catastrophic loss in November could be very good for the party.”
Yes, and even better for the rest of us.
Arianna Huffington and her ostensibly left-wing friends are pygmies barking at the heels of a giant, who is so far above their petty partisan tirades that the distance can only be measured in light years. In the Bizarro World of the Huffy lefties, Obama’s attempt to reach out across party lines is a strategy for defeat, while a sectarian and more conventional, partisan Democratic campaign is certain to do the trick. I don’t know what drugs they’re doing in Hollywood, these days, but maybe, just maybe, the Hollywood Left is letting the thick clouds of ideological smoke that swirl around their heads get in their eyes.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN