This is essentially good news:
Mr. Obama visited the Pentagon for the first time since becoming president, and he seemed to be looking for an option that would let him stay true to his campaign promise, at least in theory, without alienating the generals. The White House indicated that Mr. Obama was open to alternatives to his 16-month time frame [for leaving Iraq] and emphasized that security was an important factor in his decision.
Obama needs to compromise with his generals for two reasons. First: they were right and he was wrong – committing to an inflexible time frame for withdrawal instead of making sure that the U.S. leaves Iraq successfully was a mistaken notion, both strategically and morally. Second: Iraq is now Obama’s war – but one that he inherited in much better condition than previously thought possible. When things were going bad, Obama could promise withdrawal without risking much – but sticking to this promise now carries huge political risks.
If the U.S. leaves too early and things turn bad, Obama will be blamed for ruining the successful surge. If he demands an early withdrawal without getting the generals on board – he will have an even bigger problem. On the other hand, if Obama strikes a compromise – his flank is pretty much covered. If the situation deteriorates he will be able to say that he merely acted on the advice of his professional military advisors.
But, off course, the people least equipped to understand the fairly simple politics of Iraq withdrawal are those speaking to Obama in the name of politics:
Yet Mr. Obama faces pressure from his political base to stick to his 16-month timetable. “We voted for him because he’s going to get us out of Iraq,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, an antiwar group. “If there are some military people who feel we should stay there, they’re entitled to their opinion, but that shouldn’t be our policy.”
Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, another organization that opposes the war, said, “We have no reason to think Obama’s backed off his campaign promises on a timeline to end the war.” Representative William D. Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts and member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said that the withdrawal should happen even faster than 16 months and that military commanders knew it could. “When they say it concerns them, there’s a certain ‘cover myself’ ” at work, he said.
However, if Obama proved anything in the last three months it was this: he is much smarter than his more radical supporters, both strategically and politically. I predict another disappointment for the Left is in the making.