Obama and Iraq

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OBAMA AND IRAQ….Ross Douthat suggests that perhaps liberals ought to be happy with the relative hawkishness of Barack Obama’s national security team:

By putting the job in the hands of Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton — a Republican appointee and a primary-season rival who attacked him from the right on foreign policy — Obama has effectively given realists and liberal hawks partial ownership of whatever happens in Iraq between now and 2011. In a best-case scenario for progressives, Gates and Clinton will play the role Colin Powell played in the run-up to the Iraq War (except with a better final outcome, obviously): Their association with the policy will help keep non-progressives on board when things get dicey, and then once the job is done they’ll be pushed aside and someone like Susan Rice will take over Obama’s post-occupation foreign policy.

Obviously I don’t really think it will work out quite like that. But just as the neoconservative agenda was better-served, at least in the short run, by having Powell as one of the public faces of Iraq War hawkery (rather than, say, John Bolton), I think there’s at least a plausible scenario in which the progressive movement ends up being better off in the long run if Hillary Clinton, rather than someone to her left, is at the helm when a spasm of violence pushes Iraq back on to the front pages, and Republicans start accusing the Obama Administration of squandering the Bush-Petraeus gains with a too-precipitous withdrawal.

My own problem isn’t with one or two of Obama’s rumored appointees, but with the fact that his team doesn’t seem to have even token representation from the liberal wing of the party. That said, though, I think Ross is right about this. If the Iraqi parliament approves the SOFA agreement later this week, then Obama will have almost perfect cover for withdrawing from Iraq: he’ll be doing it under a deal approved by George Bush, and the withdrawal itself will be implemented by Republicans and centrist Democrats. Under the circumstances, it will be virtually impossible for conservatives to accuse him of “losing” the war in Iraq.

There’s no telling if this is actually what Obama has in mind, or if he’s putting together a centrist foreign policy team because he genuinely wants a centrist foreign policy. It could be a bit of both. And in any case, in the end Obama’s foreign policy will be set by….Barack Obama. Tea leaf reading will have to wait a while longer, I guess.

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