Steve already noted the NYT report that Obama will meet with military commanders on his first day in office. On This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked David Axelrod whether, in this meeting, Obama would ask those officers to come up with a plan to withdraw US combat forces in Iraq within sixteen months. Axelrod said, simply: “Yes.”
This should not be surprising in view of the fact that Obama has consistently promised to do exactly this. However, it’s worth recalling the flap that occurred last July when Obama said: “When I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.”
To my ear, this just sounded as though Obama was saying: my goal is to withdraw our troops as quickly as possible. But of course I will consult with the commanders on the ground about exactly how this should happen. Which is to say: no big deal. But lots of people thought it meant that Obama was changing his position on Iraq in some fundamental way. My favorite moment from the whole brouhaha came on ABC’s This Week (July 6, transcript via Lexis/Nexis):
“GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mark Halperin, I think it was on Thursday or Friday, you said that this apparent shift by Barack Obama, he denies it was one, is one of the biggest things to happen in the campaign.
MARK HALPERIN: So far.”
Imagine: this utter non-story, which existed only in the minds of people like Mark Halperin, was one of the biggest things to have happened in the campaign — a campaign which had included, for instance, Obama’s speech on race, his fantastic organization, his string of caucus victories, and the fact that an African-American candidate had won a whole lot of states with very small black populations.
And it wasn’t just Halperin: on that show alone, Ted Koppel claimed that Obama had “come to realize” that we have to keep troops in Iraq because it produces so much oil, and that we were “still going to have 80,000 to 100,000 troops in there three to five years from now.” Michelle Cottle of TNR said:
“I think there’s no question, I don’t think any of the candidates that we were looking at, you know, Hillary or Obama or McCain ever intended to pull them all out to the degree that we were talking about. Now, it’s general election time, he has to shift his emphasis.”
And that was just one show.
Every single person on it agreed, first, that Obama was genuinely shifting his position on Iraq; second, that his protestations to the contrary were just meant to soothe his base; third, that he had never meant what he said in the first place, and fourth, that the reason for this was that it was just so obvious that we couldn’t possibly withdraw all our combat troops from Iraq.
I mean: all the serious people said so. So how could Obama disagree?
We badly, badly need a new group of commentators on TV, or at least a ban on appearances by Mark Halperin and anyone else who just makes stuff up and then proclaims it the most significant development in the campaign to date.