Josh Marshall on Iraq Strategy vs. Tactics

Please, Please, Reporters with Brains

I spent most of today in bed with some kind of nasty cold. So I only caught up on any news this evening. And I must confess to being little short of astounded by the avalanche of press BS I’m reading on Barack Obama’s position on Iraq.

The McCain camp seems to have a lot of reporters eating out of its hands since many journalists don’t appear to grasp the basic distinction between strategy and tactics. I’ve even had normally sensible journalist colleagues forwarding me RNC press releases like they’re passing on the revealed truth. McCain’s campaign actually put out a statement claiming that Obama “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.”

I’ve watched this campaign unfold pretty closely. And I’ve listened to Obama’s position on Iraq. He’s been very clear through this year and last on the distinction between strategy and tactics. Presidents set the strategy — which in this context means the goal or the policy. And if the policy is a military one, a President will consult closely with his military advisors on the tactics used to execute the policy.

This is an elementary distinction the current occupant in the White House has continually tried to confuse by claiming that his policies are driven and constrained by the advice he’s given by his commanders on the ground. There’s nothing odd or contradictory about Obama saying that he’ll change the policy to one of withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq with a specific timetable but that he will consult with his military advisors about how best to execute that policy.

For the McCain campaign to put out a memo to reporters claiming that Obama has adopted McCain’s policy only shows that his advisors believe that a sizable percentage of the political press is made up of incorrigible morons. And it’s hard to disagree with the judgment.

The simple truth is that this campaign offers a very clear cut choice on Iraq. One candidate believes that the US occupation of Iraq is the solution; the other thinks it’s the problem. John McCain supports the permanent deployment of US troops in Iraq. That is why his hundred years remark isn’t some gotcha line. It’s a clear statement of his policy. Obama supports a deliberate and orderly withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. It’s a completely different view of America’s role in the world and future in the Middle East. Reporters who can’t grasp what Obama is saying seem simply to have been permanently befuddled by George W. Bush’s game-playing over delegating policy to commanders.

–Josh Marshall

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