Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Just Words

The McCain camp is circulating this exchange from a Newsweek interview:

RICHARD WOLFFE: “You’ve been talking about those limited missions for a long time. Having gone there and talked to both diplomatic and military folks, do you have a clearer idea of how big a force you’d need to leave behind to fulfill all those functions?”

BARACK OBAMA: “I do think that’s entirely conditions-based. It’s hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now.”

McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann then put out a statement declaring:

“Today Barack Obama finally abandoned his dangerous insistence on an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by making clear that for the foreseeable future, troop levels in Iraq will be ‘entirely conditions based.’ We welcome this latest shift in Senator Obama’s position, but it is obvious that it was only a lack of experience and judgment that kept him from arriving at this position sooner. . . Now that Obama has finally met with General Petraeus, it appears that he has also come to the conclusion that troop levels in Iraq must be based on the conditions on the ground.”

After attempting to lay claim to Prime Minister Maliki’s support for a 16-month timetable did Obama really throw in the towel and concede McCain was right on a conditions-based withdrawal? Perhaps, but I think this is more likely the latest example of his propensity for sloppy, unfocused language. Jerusalem is “undivided” — or then again, maybe not. He throws around words and phrases, devoid of real analytical understanding and offered whenever the moment seems right. Others have explained that Obama’s infatuation with words does not betray a consistent, logical or factually-grounded intellectual bent.

But what does it mean? And what does he believe? It is unknowable which version of his verbage is sincere, which is made in error and which he intends to follow.

It is irrational, you say, for him to acknowledge the surge has reduced violence, but to maintain his opposition to it. It makes no sense, others point out, to grouse that insufficient political progress has been made but to laud Maliki as the sovereign leader of not just Iraq, but “the decider” of American troop presence. You wonder how he can express fidelity to Israel’s survival but shrink from criticizing barbarism directed at Israeli children and innocents.

But you forget: it is just words. He seeks to impress, to woo, to lure, and to ingratiate and any old phrase will do. If he’s come around on the surge, that would be delightful. But don’t bet on it. He’ll be back with something new tomorrow.