New Yorker Writer Worries About 'Obama's Iraq Problem'

Barack Obama has an Iraq problem and New Yorker writer George Packer is worried. The problem is that the surge has been a great success:

In February, 2007, when Barack Obama declared that he was running for President, violence in Iraq had reached apocalyptic levels, and he based his candidacy, in part, on a bold promise to begin a rapid withdrawal of American forces upon taking office. At the time, this pledge represented conventional thinking among Democrats and was guaranteed to play well with primary voters. But in the year and a half since then two improbable, though not unforeseeable, events have occurred: Obama has won the Democratic nomination, and Iraq, despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. With the general election four months away, Obama’s rhetoric on the topic now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far.

Packer then casts aspersions upon Obama's foreign policy judgement:

Obama’s plan, which was formally laid out last September, called for the remaining combat brigades to be pulled out at a brisk pace of about one per month, along with a strategic shift of resources and attention away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. At that rate, all combat troops would be withdrawn in sixteen months. In hindsight, it was a mistake—an understandable one, given the nature of the media and of Presidential politics today—for Obama to offer such a specific timetable. In matters of foreign policy, flexibility is a President’s primary defense against surprise.

What to do? What to do? A pandering political stance undone by success in Iraq. Fortunately Packer takes solace in Obama's high level of cynicism, such as his "pragmatic" move to break his public financing pledge,  which can help him in this crises:

Obama, whatever the idealistic yearnings of his admirers, has turned out to be a cold-eyed, shrewd politician. The same pragmatism that prompted him last month to forgo public financing of his campaign will surely lead him, if he becomes President, to recalibrate his stance on Iraq. He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”

And now the money quote in this piece:

Obama has shown, with his speech on race, that he has a talent for candor.

Oh yeah. Wonderful candor there when he lamely expained why he had to break his pledge about accepting public campaign financing. A move that Packer thought was "pragmatic."

Packer proves that he is no mere unbiased bystander since he gives Obama a few tips just oozing with cynicism such as this:

If pressed on his timetable for withdrawal, he could say, “That was always a goal, not a blueprint. When circumstances change, I don’t close my eyes—I adapt.”

Say George, tell us again about Obama's "talent for candor."

2008 Presidential New Yorker

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