The latest example comes in the form of PolitiFact's apologetic on behalf of Sen. Barack "Can't I just finish my waffle?" Obama in covering for his double-dipping Thursday press conferences from July 3. PolitiFact provides its cover by finding McCain campaign claims that Obama has flip-flopped on his Iraq policy "False" according to their dopey "Truth-O-Meter."
Obama's Iraq Position(s)
I'll invoke the "paper of record," The New York Times, to paint the initial picture:
Senator Barack Obama said Thursday that he might “refine” his plans for a phased withdrawal from Iraq after meeting with military commanders there later this summer. But later, he hastily held a second news conference: to emphasize his commitment to withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. His two statements, made just hours apart in Fargo, N.D., reflected how the changing dynamics on the ground in Iraq have posed a challenge to Mr. Obama, as he tried to retain flexibility as violence declines there without abandoning one of the central promises of his campaign: that if elected he would end the war there.The NYT noted that Obama's first news conference (at Hector International Airport) appeared as an attempt to preserve flexibility. We owe it to Sen. Obama to use his own words to inform our assessments, but I've had trouble finding any transcript.
After delaying this post for few days, I finally located a video of Obama's statement. I expect I'll have one of the better transcripts in terms of capturing the context.
I've always said that I would listen to commanders on the ground. 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 have a chance to talk some of the commanders on the ground I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.
The end of the video makes it sound like Obama said "policies" rather than "policy" as it has appeared in most quotations (the PolitiFact version is plural). It is possible that the edit produces the "s" sound, but after repeated listens I'm satisfied that I have the more accurate transcription here.
The PolitiFact entry assigns truth values to the statements made by the McCain campaign to the effect that Obama has reversed himself regarding Iraq policy. Because of the nature of this controversy, I'll deal with the statements of the McCain campaign at the end.
We reviewed Obama's statements on Iraq from the campaign to try to uncover whether he was back-tracking on earlier promises. Iraq was one of the most pressing issues of the Democratic primary, discussed and dissected during more than 20 debates.The portions of Obama's statement that caused people (not just members of the McCain campaign) to question it were his use of the conditional "the need to maintain stability" and his willingness to refine his position based on discussions with military leaders. It is conceivable that the military leaders will have a view of maintaining stability that would be incompatible with Obama's plans for leaving Iraq "quickly."
We found that Obama has made a few points about Iraq over and over again: that he opposed the war "from the start"; that U.S. troops should leave Iraq quickly and in an orderly fashion ("as careful getting out as we were careless getting in"); and that the U.S. should not have permanent bases inside Iraq.
Note that the PolitiFact analysis utterly misses this point. Their subsequent review of Obama's statements fails to fill the hole.
His campaign Web site says the following: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."The hole persists. Stability in Iraq is not mentioned except if taken as an incidental symptom of al Qaeda activity.
"I think it's hard to project four years from now, and I think it would be irresponsible. We don't know what contingency will be out there," Obama said. "I will drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians and making sure that we're carrying out counterterrorism activities there. I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013, but I don't want to make promises not knowing what the situation's going to be three or four years out."Nothing really new, here. The hole persists.
"As soon as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we will initiate a phased withdrawal, we will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. We will give ample time for them to stand up, to negotiate the kinds of agreements that will arrive at the political accommodations that are needed."This one might be taken as spackle, if not hole-filler. The problem is in reconciling "ample time for them to stand up" with a sixteen month withdrawal time frame. The context of Obama's statement is instructive, however, as it came in response to Tim Russert's question as to whether he would withdraw U.S. troops if Iraq demanded it.
RUSSERT: Let me talk about the future—let me talk about the future about Iraq, because this is important I think to Democratic voters particularly.
You both have pledged a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You both have said you’d keep a residual force there to protect our embassy, to seek out Al Qaida, to neutralize Iran. If the Iraqi government said, President Clinton or President Obama, you’re pulling out your troops this quickly? You’re going to be gone in a year? But you’re going to leave a residual force behind? No. Get out! Get out now! If you don’t want to stay and protect us, we’re a sovereign nation, go home now. Will you leave?
OBAMA: Well, if the Iraqi government says that we should not be there, then we cannot be there. This is a sovereign government, as George Bush continually reminds us.
Now, I think we can be in a partnership with Iraq to ensure the stability and the safety of the region, to ensure the safety of Iraqis and to meet our national security interests. But in order to do that, we have to send a clear signal to the Iraqi government that we are not going to be there permanently, which is why I have said that as soon as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We will initiate a phased withdrawal. We will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. We will give ample time for them to stand up to negotiate the kinds of agreements that will arrive at the political accommodations that are needed. We will provide them continued support.
But it is important for us not to be held hostage by the Iraqi government in a policy that has not made us more safe, is distracting us from Afghanistan, and is costing us dearly not only and most importantly in the lost lives of our troops, but also the amount of money that we are spending that is unsustainable and will prevent us from engaging in the kinds of investments in America that will make us more competitive and more safe.
I'm inclined to view this as an earlier incarnation of the same flip-flop Obama blurted out in Iowa. Note Jeffrey Feldman's post-debate take on the Obama response:
Curiously, Barack Obama is already using the word 'partnership' to define his position Iraq--the word the Bush administration and the Republican Party are using to try to take control of the debate heading into the general election. And that's not the only Republican language Obama used in that answer. He also said -- as George Bush has said many times -- that he would give the Iraqi's time to "stand up" (as in, 'when they stand up, we'll stand down') and assured the Iraqis that America will provide them continued support. Those parts of his position on Iraq are clear, but they also clearly come from the Republicans. The part about 'calling in the Joint Chiefs of Staff' to 'initiate a phased withdrawal' is not so clear. Why will Obama need to call in the Joint Chiefs? Why not just start the withdrawal. And why use the exceedingly bureaucratic phrase 'initiate a phased withdrawal' instead of just saying 'begin withdrawing'? Nobody knows. The answers remain vague.Feldman had pretty much the same problem with Obama's statement then as many Democrats are having now with Obama's Iowa blurtation.
But as far as PolitiFact can see, Obama has been consistent. Back to their litany of consistent statements.
"Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics. Once I've given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed deliberately in an orderly fashion out of Iraq and we are going to have our combat troops out, we will not have permanent bases there, once I've provided that mission, if they come to me and want to adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration; but ultimately the buck stops with me as the commander in chief."Note the heavy emphasis on sustaining stability in Iraq. Yeah, only kidding.
On "Meet the Press" on May 4, 2008, Russert asked Obama what he would do if advisers thought "a quick withdrawal" from Iraq would result in genocide. Obama replied, "Of course, I would factor in the possibilities of genocide, and I factored it in when I said that I would begin a phased withdrawal. What we have talked about is a very deliberate and prudent approach to the withdrawal -- one to two brigades per month. At that pace, it would take about 16 months, assuming that George Bush is not going to lower troop levels before the next president takes office. We are talking about, potentially, two years away. At that point, we will have been in Iraq seven years. If we cannot get the Iraqis to stand up in seven years, we're not going to get them to stand up in 14 or 28 or 56 years."If a guy can use that many words and still leave the canvas blank then truly he must be some sort of artist. This snippet suggests the Iraqis will have had "ample time to stand up" within his stated 16 month time frame. And it also provides plausible deniability of the type that would absolutely infuriate the hard left antiwar camp. After all, even if we can't get the Iraqis to stand up in seven years it doesn't mean that we can't get them to stand up in 10 years. Fourteen is a different story, though! Again, one is reminded of the slick talk that came from Bill Clinton.
PolitiFact buys it:
Taken in their entirety, Obama's comments reflect a philosophy of "about 16 months" for withdrawal. He also appears to be willing to take advice from commanders on the ground that might affect the general pace, but not the overall goal of withdrawal. Yet Obama has been artful in his rhetoric. His campaign has clearly emphasized "16 months" when speaking to anti-war audiences and "about 16 months" when answering questions from withdrawal skeptics. But Obama never urged a "precipitous" withdrawal; even a bill he offered in January 2007 that set a deadline for getting out of Iraq contained an exemption for national security."Artful in his rhetoric." I love that one.
Sixteen months is a precipitous withdrawal. The leading Democratic presidential candidates all effectively agreed on that earlier in the campaign during an Iowa debate when the recognized that withdrawal would take a year.
But Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said a pullout would take a year and would also mean leaving some troops behind to protect an estimated 4,000 US civilians working in Iraq. His assertion was supported by Clinton, Obama, and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.For the mathematically challenged, 16 months is four months longer than a year. Now imagine walking out of a movie theater precipitously in the minimum of 12 seconds. Then imagine claiming that leaving the theater in 16 seconds is not precipitous.
(The Boston Globe)
PolitiFact buys it.
Weighing all these statements together, we find the McCain campaign is off-base in saying Obama has changed position. Obama repeatedly said facts on the ground could affect the tactical moves of an overall withdrawal. Obama's position was not an iron-clad withdrawal timeline in the first place. We find the McCain campaign's statement that Obama has reversed position to be False.We've gone clean through the analysis, albeit not quoting the entire thing, and the piece never recognizes that Obama's consideration of ensuring the stability in Iraq does not pair well with a 16 month "phased withdrawal."
And how Ms. Drobnic Holan missed this one I have no clue:
All Combat Troops Redeployed by 2009: Barack Obama would immediately beginFrom the same source:
redeploying American troops from Iraq. The withdrawal would be strategic and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Troops would be removed from secure areas first, with troops remaining longer in more volatile areas. The drawdown would begin immediately with one to two combat brigades redeploying each month and all troops engaged in combat operations out by the end of next year.
("Obama's Plan to Responsibly End the War in Iraq"--pdf, Sept. 2007)
"My plan for ending the war would turn the page in Iraq by removing our combat troops from Iraq’s civil war; by taking a new approach to press for a new accord onNote that in 2007, less than one year ago, Obama was all about getting our troops out of Iraq's civil war. In July 2008, Obama's rhetoric emphasized sustaining Iraq's stability. That is a substantial change, but PolitiFact takes no note.
reconciliation within Iraq; by talking to all of Iraq’s neighbors to press for a compact in the region; and by confronting the human costs of this war."
[Speech in Clinton County, IA, 09/12/07]
The McCain campaign statement
Why deal with the McCain campaign's statement at the end? It promotes understanding to place the comment in context. Above, thanks in large part of PolitiFact, one gets a taste of the varied and (ahem) "artful" statements made by the junior senator from Illinois. When I sought out the entire statement I discovered that PolitiFact had left out an important part of the story.
I should not have been surprised.
I will present the entire statement, adding bold highlights to the portion quoted at PolitiFact.
"Since announcing his campaign in 2007, the central premise of Barack Obama's candidacy was his commitment to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq immediately. He campaigned in Iowa, New Hampshire and across the country reaffirming this pledge to the American people.First, note that the statement implicitly emphasizes the portion of Obama's statement ignored by PolitiFact: Redeployment would take into account the stability of Iraq. It is no longer removing our troops from the midst of a civil war. Second, though I haven't emphasized it in this post, plenty of others (not PolitiFact, unfortunately) have duly noted Obama's expectation that the surge strategy would not only fail but would make things worse in Iraq.
"Today, Barack Obama reversed that position proving once again that his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain's position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it. Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country.
"Now that Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words, we would like to congratulate him for accepting John McCain's principled stand on this critical national security issue. If he had visited Iraq sooner or actually had a one-on-one meeting with General Petraeus, he would have changed his position long ago."
In short, the facts on the ground in Iraq have made Obama's withdrawal plan rationale absurd. With no civil war there is no reason to extricate our troops from a civil war. With Iraq making rapid political and security progress, there is no reason to apply pressure for rapid political and security progress. As a result, Obama changed the rationale. With the rationale altered, his time frame for withdrawal appears much more elastic--rather akin to the existing plans expressed by President Bush, along with those announced by candidate McCain.
PolitiFact behaves as we might expect from an Obama apologist. Obama has been consistent, the fact-checkers say, with the implication that those on the left who took that hard 16 month withdrawal thing seriously are at fault. They failed to follow the artful nuance of their candidate.
It is bad enough that PolitiFact was blind to the shifting rationale coming from Obama. That alone is enough to discredit this entry. Worse yet, it gives us yet another example of inconsistent criteria from the supposedly objective fact-checkers.
What am I talking about?
Earlier this year, PolitiFact graded McCain false on the claim that he had not accepted earmarks. Rather than permitting McCain a nuanced understanding of earmarks, PolitiFact used the notion that people would be misled by McCain's statement sufficient to rate him flatly "False." In the current case with Obama, it evidently doesn't matter how Obama's own supporters read his statements.
To paraphase the apostle Paul, Let Obama be true and everyone else a liar.