Former advisor: Obama’s Iraq plan “best-case scenario”

Samantha Power's comments about Clinton may have ended her time with the Obama campaign, but her remarks about Iraq may prove more damaging in the long run.

Topics: 2008 Elections, War Room, Iraq, Middle East,

Samantha Power’s description of Hillary Clinton as a “monster” might be what’s ultimately remembered of her time as a senior foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama‘s campaign, and it’s what brought that tenure to an end. But it’s another set of comments Power made recently, in an appearance on a BBC program Thursday, that may ultimately prove more damaging to Obama’s campaign.

In that appearance, Power told interviewer Stephen Sackur that when it comes to his plans to withdraw from Iraq, Obama “will of course not rely upon some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or as a U.S. senator. He will rely upon a plan, an operational plan that he pulls together, in consultation with people who are on the ground, to whom he doesn’t have daily access now as a result of not being the president.” (Video and a transcript of the segment are below.)

All told, Power’s comments are not unreasonable — or all that surprising. She says, basically, that the situation in Iraq may change between now and when the next president is inaugurated, and that Obama’s withdrawal plan is only a best-case scenario. Maybe I’m just overly cynical, but I’ve always suspected that once any of the candidates was in office, his or her actual actions on Iraq might not reflect campaign promises. (A retired general responsible for coauthoring the “surge” plan for Iraq, who has previously advised Hillary Clinton, recently made similar comments about Clinton’s stance.)

But of course, even if Power was really just laying out a realistic perspective, reality isn’t always what matters in a political campaign. What may matter more to voters is whether they see Obama as sharing their position on the war, and whether they interpret these comments as a sign that Obama is being less than honest. And the Clinton campaign certainly sees an opportunity to score some points using what Power said — it has already put up a post about the interview at the “Fact Hub,” and e-mailed details to reporters.


STEPHEN SACKUR: Let me stop you just for a moment. You said that he’ll revisit it when he goes to the White House. So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months isn’t a commitment, isn’t it?

POWER: You can’t make a commitment in whatever month we’re in now, in March of 2008, about what circumstances are gonna be like in Jan. 2009. We can’t even tell what Bush is up to in terms of troop pauses and so forth. He will of course not rely upon some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or as a U.S. senator. He will rely upon a plan, an operational plan that he pulls together, in consultation with people who are on the ground, to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

So to think, I mean it would be the height of ideology, you know, to sort of say, “Well I said it, therefore I’m going to impose it on whatever reality entreats me” —

SACKUR: OK, so the 16 months is negotiable?

POWER: It’s a best case scenario.

SACKUR: It’s a best case scenario.

POWER: It is, on the basis —

SACKUR: And of course in Iraq we’ve never seen best cases come off —

POWER: We have never seen best cases.

SACKUR: So we needn’t necessarily take it seriously at all.

POWER: What we can take seriously is that he will try to get U.S. forces out as quickly and as responsibly as possible, and that that’s the best case estimate of what it would take.

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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