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Politician-in-Chief

Mar 19, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 26 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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This was a case Obama would make consistently through his election in 2008. On September 12, 2007, one day after Obama told General David Petraeus that the surge in Iraq was destined to fail, he returned to the campaign trail and touted his consistency: “I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed it in 2003. I opposed it in 2004. I opposed it in 2005. I opposed it in 2006.”

Three weeks later, he gave a speech in Chicago marking the anniversary of his 2002 speech opposing the war. As politicians often do, he recast the narrative of the events leading up to that speech, suggesting that his advisers had urged him to keep quiet, but that in a triumph of courage over expediency, he had overruled them. (Later in the speech, Obama claimed: “Some seek to rewrite history.” The jibe was directed at his opponents, but accurately described what he was doing at the podium.)

Those claiming the surge was working, he said, were “divorced from reality”—an accusation that included Petraeus, now Obama’s CIA director. Obama congratulated himself for predicting that the war would be more difficult than its architects had suggested and insisted, once again, that those who disagreed with him, Republicans and Democrats alike, were motivated by politics. “The conventional thinking in Washington has a way of buying into stories that make political sense even if they don’t make practical sense,” he averred. “We were counseled by some of the most experienced voices in Washington that the only way for Democrats to look tough was to talk, act, and vote like a Republican.”

The restraint he’s now seeking from his Republican rivals was nowhere in evidence as he rode his opposition to the Iraq war from the Illinois State Senate to the White House.

The Atlantic’s Goldberg, whose interview with Obama covered the weightiest of weighty subjects—a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, the possible annihilation of Israel, among other topics—later noted that the president was at his most passionate when he spoke about .  .  . domestic politics. “One of the most interesting things in this interview I did with the president last week, he got most exercised when talking about his record on Israel and the way that Republicans, especially Republican candidates for president, are talking about it.”

Is it any wonder?

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