The muted reservations he once attached to his demands for a prompt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq now have replaced the withdrawal itself as a goal.
One of his advisers on foreign policy -- Richard Danzig -- used to say that the "residual force" the candidate would leave behind in Iraq might number from 30,000 to 55,000 troops. Now there's talk out of the Pentagon of as many as 70,000 American troops remaining in Iraq even beyond 2011, the year mentioned in the just approved agreement with an ever stronger, more independent Iraqi government.
As Iraq becomes a stable democracy and ally of the West in the heart of the Middle East, most Americans would not quibble over the size of the American force that would remain there or for how long. Any more than most Americans know or object to how many American troops now remain stationed in Germany or Korea in peacetime.
Barack Obama still cannot bring himself to utter the word victory in connection with Iraq, but he's at least backed away from his promises of what would have been a defeat. To quote the country's once and future secretary of defense, Robert Gates, "Nobody wants to put at risk the gains that have been achieved, with so much sacrifice, on the part of our soldiers and the Iraqis...."
So far the anti-war crowd, from MoveOn.org to the Impeach Bush crowd, hasn't seemed to much notice, let alone object, to Senator Obama's slow but steady change of course. Or perhaps, in the presence of an undeniable if unheralded success for American arms, even the angry left has come to recognize that defeat in Iraq may now be a lost cause.
As Barack Obama grows more realistic, the continuity of American foreign policy seems more assured each passing day. There's nothing like power to breed responsibility. And the closer Barack Obama gets to becoming president -- and commander-in-chief -- the more responsible he sounds. When it comes to Iraq, the next president of the United States is starting to sound remarkably like ... the current one.
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