Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"No bomb-bomb Obama"

Back in April, David Brooks predicted that Obama was getting himself into "read my lips" trouble by sticking to his pledge to withdraw most American troops from Iraq within 16 months:
If Obama is elected, he will either go back on this pledge — in which case he would destroy his credibility — or he will risk genocide in the region and a viciously polarizing political war at home.
Three months later, with progress in Iraq seeming to solidify, it seems that luck may be giving Obama enough wiggle room to both adjust and essentially stick to his pledge. He now has Iraqi government endorsement for his timeframe, with eight extra months thrown in as if by design to fit the "tactical adjustments" and "refinements" he's allowed himself (after a couple of zigzags, Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh set the end of 2010 as a target for withdrawal).

At the same time, Gideon Rachman (in a dispassionately logical column that reminds me why I love the FT) points out that Obama has withstood considerable pressure to allow himself crucial flexibility on what may be an even more important front. Honing in on what he casts as the most fateful decision the next President is likely to make in the short term, Rachman points out that unlike McCain (and, Rachman might have added, every other serious Presidential candidate),
Mr Obama, by contrast, carefully avoided an absolute commitment that Iran would never go nuclear on his watch. He has stressed again and again how seriously he takes the threat but he has never crossed the line into in effect promising military action. To reverse the McCain position, it seems that the only thing worse for Mr Obama than a nuclear Iran would be a war with Iran.
Like Fareed Zakaria, Rachman recognizes Obama as the true realist in this campaign:

The US has already had to learn to live with nuclear weapons in the hands of countries that are far more oppressive and irrational than Iran: North Korea, Mao's China, the Soviet Union.

One of the great lessons of international relations since 1945 is that nuclear deterrence has worked. Mr Obama respects that lesson. Mr McCain does not. For that reason alone, Mr Obama would make the better commander-in-chief.

Obama has been widely accused of serial flip-flopping of late. But it has required considerable political courage to stick to commitments to draw down troops in Iraq, ramp up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and negotiate with Iran. Those are central pillars in a coherent middle east strategy, spelled out in a series of speeches and a recent op-ed, that is as noteworthy for stipulating what we can't do (spend $10 billion per month and pin down 100,000+ troops in Iraq) as what we must do (develop a more multidimensional counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan).

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