Obama, Iraq and the Withdrawal Pledge Revisited

Several of you have emailed to ask me to update to my earlier post regarding Obama’s likely approach to fulfilling his campaign pledge to remove all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his election.  As most of you know by now, he is not going to fully honor this pledge, although he will draw down U.S. troop levels significantly, but not until three months after the campaign deadline, and even then he will keep up to 50,000 troops in Iraq for a period that might last until the 2011 deadline for removal of U.S. troops negotiated by the Bush administration.  Moreover, many of the troops that he has pledged to remove from Iraq will in fact be shifted to Afghanistan. Leaders of the Democratic party, including Nancy Pelosi, as well as the netroots, are not happy with this decision, suggesting that Obama has reneged on a campaign promise.   Because this is a complicated and important issue, I want to spend some time responding to Obama’s critics, but let me be clear here: I think that the criticism from the Left underestimates the constraints that Obama faces in fulfilling what has turned out to be a somewhat naive campaign pledge.  In fact, I want to suggest that his actions are not only predictable, they are also the mark of a president who has put the national interest above politics.  Unfortunately, since I am on deadline for finishing another article, I ask for your patience before I develop this argument in more detail.  To whet your appetite, however, let me suggest that the decision to modify his campaign pledge reflects not only the difference between campaigning and governing – it also is a reminder that presidents do not command the military – they bargain with them.

I appreciate your patience while I am on what I hope is a short hiatus until early next week to finish this article.

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