Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama’s Iraq Minefield.

Far from being “above politics,” Obama has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to play the sordid game with almost undetectable skill. He has indeed equivocated and contradicted himself on the war, and he has more or less confessed to tilting whichever way the wind blows for the purposes of political expediency. He had jaw-dropping exchange with Tim Russert on the November 11, 2007 installment of Meet the Press in which, when challenged with some of his own wobblier pronouncements on holding fellow Democrats to account for authorizing the war, he replied that the party had just put up “a nominee for the presidency and a vice president, both of whom had voted for the war. And so it probably was the wrong time for me to be making a strong case against our party’s nominees’ decisions when it came to Iraq.”

Thus Obama was willing to sacrifice his own belief in the folly of Kerry and Edwards’s decisions in order not to rock the boat on their way to the White House. What else might he be willing to sacrifice, go silent on, or obfuscate, when he himself is the one running for president?

In an interviewNew Yorker in 2007, before he had declared his presidential candidacy and when he was still in the habit of giving Hillary Clinton her dues: “[P]erhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn’t have the benefit of U.S. intelligence. And, for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices… [Clinton] and I were in different circumstances at that time: I was running for the U.S. Senate, she had to take a vote, and casting votes is always a difficult test.” No doubt it is. But lest this generous dispensation to his future rival lead you to credit Obama with self-criticism and doubt, consider that the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, on which he claimed to have based his antiwar stance and from which he formulated parts of his Chicago speech, conceded that Saddam had an arsenal of WMD but did not pose an imminent threat. As Crowley put it, “If Obama already accepted that Saddam had WMD, why would the intelligence have changed his view about war?” What would he have learned from classified information that he didn’t already know and that any one of the former Democratic contenders for president this year might have trotted out in their defense for voting to go to war?

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