Obama's Iraq op-ed is all the news today, and it clearly establishes that he's not changing his position. John Judis doesn't buy it, but his argument isn't there. Contra Judis, Obama does acknowledge the drop in violence caused by the surge, but continues to make the correct argument that it has had little effect on Iraq's political situation. Oddly, I know this thanks to a McCain campaign e-mail publicizing an Obama interview with Larry King in March '07: "[E]ven those who support the escalation have acknowledged that 20,000, 30,000, even 40,000 more troops placed temporarily in places like Baghdad are not going to make a long-term difference." There's no evidence that the surge has done that, but if it does Obama's plan is even more appropriate.

Obama again mentions the 16 month timetable in the op-ed, something Judis claims Obama is moving away from. Further, it seems that in order to construe Obama's position as a flip-flop, you are required to assume he makes the withdrawal contingent on something in particular, which he doesn't -- the only thing that may change is the pace. Judis also says that Obama has made "stability" a military criteria  criterion for moving out of Iraq, when Obama used to prioritize stability only in regard to diplomatic efforts. But in today's op-ed Obama remains clear on the stability/diplomacy link: "We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees."

The media richly deserves to be attacked for group-think on the idea that Obama has flip-flopped on Iraq. An example: On today's campaign conference call with Joe Biden and Susan Rice, a political reporter for a major newspaper asked whether it was a good idea for Obama to make such a clear statement on Iraq policy before he goes to meet the generals there, continuing to buy into the idea that Obama has to flip-flop on the war at some point or other. But here's the point: Obama has a clear strategy for withdrawal and redeployment, with a timetable and everything, that has not changed, and probably won't. McCain has an unclear strategy for staying in Iraq indefinitely. Is anyone going to write about this glaring difference?

--Tim Fernholz

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