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He Means It This Time?

The Washington Post editors observed the Obama national security team roll-out yesterday:

Mr. Gates, Ms. Clinton and Gen. Jones have also all questioned Mr. Obama’s 16-month timetable for withdrawing from Iraq and underlined the need to end the war without touching off a surge of violence in the country. Mr. Obama appears to be tacking toward their position: While he reaffirmed his 16-month timeline yesterday, he also said his “number-one priority is making sure that our troops remain safe in this transition phase and that the Iraqi people are well served by a government that is taking on increased responsibility for its own security.” While it’s possible those priorities could be upheld during a 16-month withdrawal, most likely Mr. Obama’s own team will press him for greater flexibility.

The president-elect said yesterday that he favors “strong personalities and strong opinions” around him in part because this prevents “groupthink.” But groupthink may still be a danger on this team. Eager to correct the perceived errors of the Bush administration, Mr. Obama and his appointees are heavily invested in the notion that better diplomacy can answer Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, ease the threat of terrorism from Pakistan and maybe even solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. We hope they are right. If they are wrong, particularly about Iran, someone in this group will need to speak up.

Yes, as I and many others noted yesterday, it is one thing to throw out tidbits to the Left during the campaign and quite another to govern and be held accountable for the security of America and its allies. So yesterday was encouraging — if we believe the President-elect was finally showing his hand on his approach to national security.

Granted, it is always difficult to decipher when Barack Obama is serious and when he is playing to the crowd. Did he mean it when he promised immediate withdrawal from Iraq during the primary? Did he mean it when he told interviewers on his summer trip overseas that, even in retrospect, he would not have favored the surge? Or does he mean it now, when he provides himself ample wiggle room on withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and assembles a national security team that might have been nominated by John McCain (and which frustrates the Left)?

A cynic might say that he has no beliefs –opposed to the surge when the going is tough and the netroots hold sway, but against fixed deadlines when he is broadening his base and preventing international chaos, which might disrupt his domestic agenda. That’s not very comforting for those who believe that resoluteness and fixed principles make for great presidents. But for now, inveighing against terrorists and surrounding himself with experienced and sober voices who have no illusions about the indispensability of American military power aren’t a bad way to start. We’ll see if he means it this time.



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