By news media standards it's been a bad day for Senator Obama, since he had to give two press conferences today, the second to clarify comments from the first. His comments on Iraq threatened to leave the impression that he was "flip-flopping," while Senator McCain gloated from the sidelines. All Obama was trying to say was that he remained committed to ending the occupation of Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration, but would be influenced by conditions in the country and the advice of the military. This looked bad to those who took his 16-month proposal as an absolute promise. It can't help but look bad to those who believe that leaving Iraq as soon as possible is a matter of principle, and that the reason to leave is that we don't belong there and shouldn't have gone there in the first place. It's been clear all along, however, that Obama doesn't propose to revolutionize American foreign policy. However wrong he may believe the invasion to have been, he's not about to abort the occupation unconditionally, which is what a principled opposition to the invasion would dictate. Obama is apparently more "statesmanlike" than that, but to the extent that today's comments reveal an evolution of his views, it may hurt him as long as people take campaign speeches to be rigid assertions of unswerving policies and unalterable principles. We should want a President whose opinions involve over time, but our candidates have themselves to blame for running on "promises" in the first place.
If it seems like I've been harsh on Obama this week, that's probably because I find McCain's flaws so self-evident that they don't seem to need mentioning here. But in the interest of objectivity, I applaud Obama's latest swipe on the Republican's 50-year scenario for Iraq. No matter what McCain means or thinks he means, the truth of the matter in Iraq is that x years of occupation means x years of war. I'll take Obama's equivocations over McCain's obstinance any day, but I'd like more choices than those.