Robert Gibbs, communications director for the Obama campaign, appeared on today's Morning Joe and ended up having to take questions on that whole Obama Iraq Withdrawal Flip Flop That Hasn't Happened Yet But That We'll Report It Ahead Of Time Because Why Not Report Tomorrow's Conventional Wisdom Today. Gibbs' responses were sort of par-for-the-course, sufficient to cast the candidate in a good light but probably well short of cutting off the media's zombie heads as they furtively search for brains.
Andrea Mitchell began the interrogation by stipulating that "It wasn't the media saying it, it was the McCain campaign that went after him for it." And she's right! It's the media that's not applying scrutiny to the matter! That lack of scrutiny shows up in her first question: "How do you reassure your original supporters, the anti-war left, that you aren't flip-flopping?" What Mitchell either doesn't realize or refuses to admit is that it's not just the "anti-war left" that wants withdrawal from Iraq - it's a position firmly supported by mainstream America.
Gibbs notes the obvious: that if Obama had vowed to disregard the advice of military commanders out-of-hand, people would likely, and rightly, come to think of Obama as a crazy person. Gibbs remained confident that the plan for a cautious withdrawal, taking place over sixteen months, would be possible, but that naturally, Obama would remain attuned to changes in conditions.
This led Willie Geist to flap his lips and make the following noises: "But conditions presumably will change. You've kind of painted yourself into a corner with the 16-month plan. Is that what you're saying?" All this talk of painting-into-a-corner, but it's Geist who's holding the brush, suggesting that if Obama even responds to changing circumstances, he's a flip-flopper. That's sort of like defaming someone for opening an umbrella in a storm. What? I thought you were committed to sunshine!
Gibbs hints at a little bit of jujitsu, remarking that he hoped that there were changes in Iraq, namely positive ones! But he could have gone farther in highlighting the lack of logic between the Bush-McCain "plan" for Iraq, in which depreciating conditions call for an extended occupation, while at the same time improving conditions call for...uhm -- an extended occupation.
Andrea Mitchell finally bankrupted the entire exchange by asking Gibbs: "Has the 'Surge' at least quieted down the level of violence, certainly on the ground, the number of casualties have gone down?"
What? Doesn't MSNBC have "reporters" who can suss out that information? Gibbs smartly retorted, "Well, Andrea, you probably covered the surge from the very beginning." I might have recommended that he point out that whatever gains are being made in Iraq as far as reducing the rate of casualties are being offset in Afghanistan, but in this case, it would have been like casting pearls before swine.
MITCHELL: Let's talk about the whole business of whether or not that was a flip-flop. How does he go ahead and say, of course, I will listen to commanders on the ground without being accused of flip-flopping. It wasn't the media saying it, it was the McCain campaign that went after him for it. How do you reassure your original supporters, the anti-war left, that you aren't flip-flopping?
GIBBS: Well, Andrea, we've talked about giving commanders flexibility from the very beginning. The notion that that's somehow different is based on apparently people not reading what we actually said. We've always said Senator Obama has always said he thought this war was a strategic blunder, that on the first day he would call in his military commanders and give them a new mission. Based on advice we've gotten, we can remove safely one to two brigades a month and in a time frame of about 16 months. But we've also said, Andrea, we're going to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. That sums it up. Obviously you have to give commanders on the ground flexibility. We'd be crazy not to.
MITCHELL: Does that mean you would not be able to withdraw in 16 months?
GIBBS: No, no. We believe we will. We believe we will. Obviously we'll listen to commanders on the ground as conditions may or may not change. This is completely consistent with what Senator Obama has talked about from the very, very beginning of this campaign.
GEIST: But conditions presumably will change. You've kind of painted yourself into a corner with the 16-month plan. Is that what you're saying?
GIBBS: No, not at all. We do hope conditions change. We hope a security environment can be enabled so a political accommodation can be made that will allow us to leave. Of course you hope circumstances change. I don't think anyone in this country wants what's happening in Iraq to continue in perpetuity, to stay there 10 or 20 years, spend $10 to $12 billion a month that could and should be invested right here in America. Obviously you hope circumstances will change. You hope things will get better.
MITCHELL: Has the "Surge" at least quieted down the level of violence, certainly on the ground, the number of casualties have gone down. Does that create a challenge for Barack Obama in trying to distinguish his policy from John McCain's?
GIBBS: Well, Andrea, you probably covered the surge from the very beginning. And as you quite recall, the idea of the surge was to create a security environment that allowed a political accommodation, as I just talked about, between the Iraqi factions to come together and create an agreement on how they would govern their country. Part of that has happened. We added 30,000 brave American troops, and violence is down, as everyone suspected it would be. What we need to have happen now is have the Iraqis take up their end of this bargain, come to some political accommodations that would allow us not to stay there for 10 or 20 years and spend $10 to $12 billion a month doing it.
UPDATE: If this issue wasn't about, you know...a war, and thus lacking in life-and-death stakes, the way in which the media is desperately attempting to report something that hasn't happened yet, and may not happen at all, would be the height of absurdist comedy. Talking Points Memo captures the Fox News Sunday panel, and Joe Lieberman, just as sure as can be that they can see into the future. Elsewhere, Charles Krauthammer gamely asserts that Obama "hasn't even gone to Iraq and the flip is almost complete."
Krauthammer, of course, is sort of an extra-special case, because he's written that he's "predicted that by Election Day Obama will have erased all meaningful differences with McCain on withdrawal from Iraq," and that he will eventually "[obliterate] all differences with McCain on national security and social issues." Naturally, a cursory examination of the two men's records will indicate that this is an irreconcilable assertion, and, furthermore, one can hardly expect that Krauthammer will spend his time between now and November not attempting to elucidate the difference between Obama and McCain. Krauthammer is a very lucky writer: he earns a living writing stuff that won't be borne out by facts and that he, himself, cannot possibly believe. He is possessed of a truly seasoned lack of principles.