The Man from Hyde Park

Article excerpt

On the eve of Independence Day, Barack Obama signaled that he was altering aspects of his position on the war in Iraq. The Democratic nominee had previously promised a firm 16-month timetable for withdrawal. But addressing reporters in Fargo, North Dakota, he said, "I've always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed, and when I go to Iraq and I 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."

Obama's opposition to the Iraq War and his pledge to withdraw all combat troops by mid-2010 have been the core of his claim to superior judgement and principal features distinguishing his foreign-policy vision from John McCain's. After two weeks of reversals, this "refinement" came at the worst possible time and drew renewed attention to Obama's anemic record as a war opponent and his habit of accommodating the prevailing consensus.

Obama immediately recognized the political danger posed by any perceived slackening of his opposition to the war and reaffirmed his intention to bring the troops home. But the promised consultation with "commanders on the ground" and suggestion that withdrawal schedules should be premised on Iraqi stability bear eerie traces of President Bush's deference to field officers and open-ended pledges that "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." Making U.S. withdrawal contingent on Iraqi stability puts the American interest second--and ensures that we will maintain the occupation for years to come. What Obama's admirers praise as pragmatic adjustment appears to skeptics as willingness to revise away even his most basic policy commitments.

Obama's dramatic rise in Illinois and national politics has been forever linked with the speech he gave to an antiwar rally in Chicago in the autumn of 2002. Given the pro-war fervor sweeping the country at that time, Obama has been credited with great political courage. But he was taking a stand that a left-liberal Democratic state senator from South Side Chicago was obliged to take. According to Ryan Lizza's recent article in The New Yorker on Obama's Chicago roots, the organizer of the rally, Bettylu Saltzman, said of Obama, "He was a Hyde Park state senator. He had to oppose the war! …


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