Will this San Francisco household finally be able to take down its sign?
All weekend I've been reading and talking with friends about the question: should we believe that President Obama is really on track to take the U.S. out of Iraq? On Friday he told an audience of Marines:
It's not surprising we don't easily believe him. Everything we've been told about the U.S. in Iraq has been a lie, arguably since the first Gulf War in 1991. That unhappy country -- rich in oil our leaders crave but stubbornly nationalist -- has been misrepresented to us by Washington politicians for so long, we properly don't trust a word they say.
But, along with much more knowledgeable observers like Juan Cole, I think Obama means this. Now that he's President, we're beginning to see a pattern to how he moves through the minefield that is the national political landscape.
- He's unflinching about observing reality. As far as Iraq goes, that is easy. The U.S. people, including his Marine audience, want this war done with. Furthermore, the U.S. gets nothing out of longer occupation.
- He operates from a broader conception of national interest than leaders we've seen of late. That is, he's no less attached to U.S. world "leadership" than his predecessors, but his policies are oriented toward including a far broader section of the U.S. population of in the bounty made possible by economic and imperial power. Iraq isn't doing squat for anyone much but a few contractors these days -- it's an easy loss to cut.
- He knows his political fortunes will depend on success at home. Iraq is a distraction.
- He offers his opponents a chance to go along with him in directions he determines -- and sets them up to take the consequences if they won't. He's disarming the right's inevitable charge that leaving Iraq will stab the U.S. military in the back. Even John McCain (Mister "we can stay in Iraq a hundred years") has had to approve.
- He plans in far longer time lines than the 24 hour news cycle. We are used to politicians, like all those Wall Street flimflam artists, whose horizons bump up against the end of their noses, who think in days and weeks at most, not decades. Last fall, George W. Bush agreed to a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that called for a complete U.S. departure by the end of 2011. We can be sure Bush was just trying to give Republicans a fig leaf for the election and get himself out of town. I can imagine candidate Obama snickering as he watched the departing Leader give him political cover for what he knew he'd have to do anyway.
- He uses words to attract, to set an agenda, and to rule. The Obama political trajectory moves from height to height marked by powerful speech after powerful speech. If we want to know what he is doing, we need to attend to the words. But also, because he uses words to attain and consolidate power, I think we can expect that he'll try to make what he says into what he does. Doing what he promises is part of consolidating power. How novel. Will he be able to keep it up?