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Obama aide signals shift on Iraq policy
“There is a line between ‘moving to the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized. And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the leftist Daily Kos Web site that has been a driving force in the party’s opposition to the war.
In an earlier policy paper on Iraq that Mr. Kahl prepared for the center-left Center for a New American Security in March, he wrote: “The U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000-80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).” A copy of his paper, which Mr. Kahl said Wednesday did not represent campaign policy and was “not meant for public consumption,” was first reported in the New York Sun.
Mr. Obama, whose candidacy was fueled by his anti-war position on Iraq, has since softened the way he describes his pullout plan, saying he would be “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” He began his campaign by calling for a total pullout, then changed that to all U.S. combat troops, which would leave thousands of other special forces behind.
In a lengthy telephone call last month with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Mr. Obama appeared to send a signal that his plan was far less rigid than he earlier suggested. Mr. Zebari said the presumptive Democratic nominee “reassured” him that he would do nothing to jeopardize Iraq’s security gains. “He will not take any drastic decisions, or reckless actions,” he said.
In his Foreign Policy article, Mr. Kahl specifically rejected the views of those Democrats who “are calling for a unilateral timetable for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces, regardless of the conditions on the ground.”
“This policy of unconditional disengagement also gives up too much leverage, because it provides no ability to the Iraqi government to affect the pace of redeployment or the nature of U.S. support in exchange for making tough choices,” he said.
In sharp contrast to Mr. Obama’s withdrawal timetable of two brigades a month from the 15 combat brigades there now, Mr. Kahl suggests, “the new administration should signal its intention to transition to a ‘support,’ or ‘overwatch,’ role by announcing the near-term reduction of U.S. forces to perhaps 12 brigades.”
Under his proposed troop drawdown scenario, “Once U.S. forces have reached a sustainable overwatch level, the primary mission of the U.S. military in Iraq will switch to counterterrorism, training and advising of the Iraqi security forces, and force protection for U.S. civilians and advisers.”
These and other statements by Obama advisers have convinced several top Democratic Iraq analysts that the senator is softening his withdrawal posture but is not willing to flatly say that for fear of alienating his large anti-war base of support.
“Three or four of his other Iraq advisers are hinting of greater flexibility, though speaking for themselves. That indicates the potential for some change in his previous positions,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.
All of this has sparked a debate in the Obama campaign Tuesday when it was asked to respond to a report in the New Yorker that the senator’s withdrawal plans were open to change.
Mrs. Rice suggested that his position was flexible and open to changed circumstances in Iraq. “Senator Obama has said on numerous occasions he will listen to his commanders on the ground; he will follow and heed their advice, as he decides how at the strategic level we must proceed.”
But Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and a campaign co-chairman, insisted last week, “No, he will not [change course.] And Senator Obama fundamentally disagrees with that assessment.”
Mr. McCain, a supporter of the Iraq war from the beginning and a defender of the U.S. military surge, backs a continued military presence there until the Iraqi government and its military can ensure the country’s safety and stability on its own.
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By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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