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.”
Obama has shown, with his speech on race, that he has a talent for candor. One can imagine him speaking more honestly on Iraq. 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.” He could detail in his speeches the functions that American troops and diplomats can continue to perform even as our primary combat role recedes: training and advising, counterterrorism, brokering deals among Iraqi factions, checking their expansionist impulses, opening talks with our enemies in the region. He could promise to negotiate all this with Iraqi leaders, emphasizing the difference between a relationship that respects the wishes of the public in both countries and one in which Iraqis are coerced into coöperation. If Obama truly wants to be seen as a figure of change, he needs to talk less about the past and more about the future: not the war that should never have been fought but the war that he, alone of the two candidates, can find an honorable way to end.
Obama’s Iraq Problem, George Packer no The New Yorker.