Changing Your Mind

Just a quick note on George Packer's New Yorker piece, Obama's Iraq Problem. In it, Packer asserts that, "Obama’s rhetoric on [Iraq] now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far."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 wrote that in reference to the security improvements in Iraq over the past 18 or so months -- improvements that seemed impossible when Obama launched his campaign against a backdrop of unending Iraqi violence and promised a speedy withdrawal.

Though I'd disagree that the gains in Iraq are as significant as Packer implies, he's right that Obama needs to be nimble should McCain come up with a good line or two about Obama wanting to pull out and imperil the fragile Iraqi security. Whether the military/political analysis of Iraq is correct or not is irrelevant. This discussion is in the vein of the John Kerry flip-flop debacle; can Obama (should Obama) revise his withdrawal plan of one brigade per month if Iraq continues to stabilize?

As Packer notes, "The politics of the issue is tricky, because acknowledging changed ideas in response to changed facts is considered a failing by the political class.... 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.'"

I would hope, and expect, that this is the tact Obama takes. It was certainly the one John Kerry should have adopted and his inability to make such a simple, and critical, intellectual leap lost him the election.

During the Depression, John Maynard Keynes appeared before parliament and presented a set of economic views that conflicted with those he'd stated previously and had failed to affect the course of the Depression. An MP called Keynes out on his "flip-flop" (to speak anachronistically). Keynes responded, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

I have far more faith in Obama's ability to repay any service from McCain's court with a scorching volley than I ever had in John Kerry. But even if Obama can deal with this issue, should McCain make it one (he will), Obama supporters should be prepared for the candidate who we expect to lead us out of Iraq to temper our expectations for that withdrawal. We have made Obama an icon but we shouldn't be surprised when he reminds us that he is also a very, very savvy politician.

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