Recently, three people for whom I have great respect have now endorsed Barack Obama for president. That would be Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens, and now Fred Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post editorial page. The latter two are particularly surprising converts because both have been such stalwart supporters of the war in Iraq–a conflict that Barack Obama has tried as hard as possible to lose. (Buckley, by contrast, has been opposed to the war–as was, as far as I can tell, his father.) How do they reconcile their support for victory with a candidate who has been happy to accept defeat?
Here is Hitchens:
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.
And here is the Washington Post editorial presumably penned by Hiatt:
Mr. Obama’s greatest deviation from current policy is also our biggest worry: his insistence on withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a fixed timeline. Thanks to the surge that Mr. Obama opposed, it may be feasible to withdraw many troops during his first two years in office. But if it isn’t — and U.S. generals have warned that the hard-won gains of the past 18 months could be lost by a precipitous withdrawal — we can only hope and assume that Mr. Obama would recognize the strategic importance of success in Iraq and adjust his plans.
The very next paragraph of the Post editorial continues in a similar vein, concerning Obama’s state support for tearing up trade treaties:
We also can only hope that the alarming anti-trade rhetoric we have heard from Mr. Obama during the campaign would give way to the understanding of the benefits of trade reflected in his writings. A silver lining of the financial crisis may be the flexibility it gives Mr. Obama to override some of the interest groups and members of Congress in his own party who oppose open trade, as well as to pursue the entitlement reform that he surely understands is needed.
“Adjust his plans”? “Profit from experience”? In other words, the best that these newly won-over Obama voters can say for him is that they hope that he is not a man of his word–that when push comes to shove he will abandon the promises that got him into the White House in the first place. I hope so, too, if Obama wins. But that doesn’t seem like a terribly convincing reason to cast a vote for president. Especially not when the other candidate (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) has shown himself willing to take tough stances in defense of our national security even when they weren’t popular.
I can’t help thinking that Hitchens, Hiatt et al. are being too complacent about the prospects for Iraq, perhaps assuming that it almost doesn’t matter who is elected in November because victory is in the bag. It would be nice if that were the case–and it may very well be the case–but I would never underestimate our ability to squander hard-won gains through imprudent leadership of the kind that Obama has demonstrated repeatedly on the campaign trail.