What Obama can Learn from Gates: A Snippet from the good Kap:
Obama can and should keep reminding voters about how he opposed the war from the beginning. But the less inclined he is to close the distance between what he will do next in Iraq and what Sen. John McCain will do next, the greater is the possibility that Iran will take advantage of the policy gap between the two candidates. McCain is publicly committed to staying the course that Gates and Petraeus have set the United States military on in Iraq. Obama is committed to getting all the troops out by 2010 no matter what. A precipitous withdrawal may be the last chance the Iranians will have to dominate Iraq to the degree that they had thought possible in 2006. If Obama heads into the fall campaign without visiting Iraq, without acknowledging progress there, and without altering his time-table for withdrawal, the Iranians may decide to help his electoral chances by initiating a new spate of bombings.Some skepticism: Yes, but politically speaking, should Obama essentially reverse course on pulling out of Iraq by 2010 he throws his chance at re-election into a rather dicey gamble. If Iraq turns around by 2012, his hypocrisy will dissipate into heroism. However, if Iraq is still a mess by 2012 his chance at re-election are a bit hindered to say the least. First he'd have pissed off his "out if Iraq.Now!" base and second he'd also be the second President to expend blood and treasure for, on the grand scheme of public understanding, little or nothing.
In other words, the closer we get to the election, the more consequences Obama's public position may have for events on the ground in Iraq. And Obama's position can surely evolve in a direction that acknowledges the need to stay tough there, even as he continues to claim credit for having been against the project from the beginning. Rather than blur the distinction between him and McCain, he can subtly shift on Iraq in a way that demonstrates just how serious a thinker he is on foreign policy.
Some optimism: As Kaplan points out, using Gates and Petraeus as examples, the rhetoric one speaks and the ideals one holds regarding a certain policy are subject to change once one becomes a "decider" in said policy. Should Obama attain the Presidency he will have shifted from an outsider looking in to an insider looking out. The reality of the situation (as opposed to the politically convenient myth) could have a profound effect on his handling of the affairs.
An aside: Events in Afghanistan will have a measured impact on our policy in Iraq, without regard to who is elected President. Afghanistan will very likely soon prove a bellwether for our policy in Iraq.