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For Barack Obama, Breaking a Campaign Promise Easier than Ending Iraq War

5 years ago
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In yet another example of President-elect Barack Obama learning that governing is much harder than campaigning, Obama is poised to abandon his campaign promise to end the Iraq War within 16 months of his inauguration. Obama has already raised eyebrows in some quarters of the anti-war left with his selections for Secretary of State and Defense, the top two Cabinet posts in his national security team. His choice for State, former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), voted to authorize the war, and was bitterly opposed in the Democratic primary by anti-war groups on the basis of that vote. Obama's choice for the Pentagon is current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a member of President Bush's cabinet and surely a bitter pill for the left to swallow. Obama's choices caused the left's most hated political operative, former Bush White House political director Karl Rove, to remark that his national security team, "represents continuity," with Bush Administration policies especially with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the campaign trail, Obama was unequivocal about his plans to bring American involvement in Iraq to an end. At a news conference in July, called to lay out his plans for Iraq, Obama was quite clear. "I intend to end this war," he said. "[On] my first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs [of Statf] in and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war-responsibly, deliberately, but decisively." It was the promise the anti-war left wanted to hear, and one candidate Obama was eager to make. Moreover, Obama built the entire rational for his candidacy on his judgment, based on his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. His campaign pointed to that opposition time and time again when challenged on Obama's relative lack of foreign policy experience.

Now that be has been elected, and is faced with the potential consequences of that promise to the anti-war left, Obama is abandoning perhaps the single most influential and loyal constituency from the campaign. Obama now says that a substantial number of U.S. troops, perhaps as many as 70,000, will have to remain in Iraq long past the March 2010 deadline he established during the campaign. Obama claims consistency on the issue, but the language he uses on the war now is much more ambiguous than that which he employed to great effect on the stump.

"I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary-likely to be necessary-to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq.

I believe 16 months is the right time frame, but, as I've said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders."

Now those commanders advising President Obama will be joined by supporters of the Iraq War in Clinton and Gates. Another prominent Bush holdover is Gen. Jim Jones, commander of NATO under President Bush and the incoming Obama National Security adviser. Jones' job will be to serve as the filter through which Obama will get his council in matters involving national security and the war. He is likely to be another voice against living up to Obama's campaign promise to "end the war" on a definite schedule.

Politicians shifting positions from the campaign to governing is nothing new. Obama is hardly the first politician to break a campaign promise to a key constituency. But what is new about Obama's election is the degree to which his support was predicated on that signature position, his superior judgment in opposing the war and his pledge to use that judgment to end it. Also new is the speed and ease with which Obama dropped his biggest group of supporters. He was only elected one month ago and will not take the oath of office until six weeks from today. The anti-war left must have its collective head spinning from the rapidity of their candidate's turnaround on the war. It remains to be seen if their disappointment in him causes them to abandon support for other parts of Obama's agenda.

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