Are Obama and Clinton Telling the Truth About Iraq Withdrawal?

Before her ouster, Obama foreign policy aide Samantha Power told BBC that the senator's plan for Iraq withdrawal was only a "best case scenario."

Watch it HERE.

STEPHEN SACKUR: 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 US 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 the best case scenario

SACKUR: It’s the best case scenario

POWER: It is –

SACKUR: And of course in Iraq we’ve never seen best case scenario

POWER: We have never seen best case scenario

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

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

Clinton seized on this today, saying, per ABC News' Eloise Parker, "while Senator Obama campaigns on his plan to end the war, his top advisors tell people abroad that he will not rely on his own plan should he become president. This is the latest example of promising the American people one thing on the campaign trail and telling people in other countries another."

Clinton continued, tying this to the NAFTA controversy (a glass house for her, really).

"We saw this with NAFTA as well," she said. "He has attacked me continuously for having no hard exit date and now we learn that he doesn't have one – in fact he doesn't have a plan at all according to his top foreign policy advisor. He keeps telling people on thing while his campaign tells people abroad something else im not sure what the American people should believe but I would refer you to the BBC interview."

But hold the phone -- the New York Sun's Eli Lake reported this month that an adviser to Clinton -- Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.), also an architect of the "surge" strategy as well as an ABC News consultant -- said "he is convinced Mrs. Clinton would hold off on authorizing a wide-scale immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq."

Reported Lake: "In an interview over the weekend, a retired four-star general, Jack Keane, said that when he briefed Mrs. Clinton in late 2006 and January 2007 on the counter-offensive strategy known as the surge, she 'generally supported the surge strategy in the sense she wanted it to succeed but she was skeptical about its chances.'"

Lake pointed out that while Keane is not an official adviser to Clinton's campaign -- she asked him to be one, but he declined -- he's worked with her since 2001 when he was chief of staff for the Army.

"'Senator Clinton is very knowledgeable about national security and is probably going to be strong on defense,' he said. 'I have no doubts whatsoever that if she were president in January '09 she would not act irresponsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, and squander the gains that have been made.' Mr. Keane added that he could not imagine any president in the White House making that kind of decision."

Asked about Keane's comments about her versus Power's about Obama, Clinton today said, "He doesn't work for  my campaign, he is not an advisor, he is one of the many military veterans whom I respect whom I am very pleased to have offer advice from time to time. But he is not within the campaign."

The bottom line, in my view?

Power and Keane are two smart people giving their own opinions about what Obama and Clinton might do.

And they're both probably shooting a lot straighter than either of the candidates, who are trying to appease voters who want US troops out of Iraq yesterday.

- jpt

UPDATE: Clinton campaign spox Phil Singer calls to dispute the notion of a Clinton "glass house" on the NAFTA issue, ever-so-helpfully pointing me to this brand new story from Bloomberg News' Theophilos Argitis of a Canadian Press story that an unidentified aide to the Canadian Prime Minister told the Canadian Press that "Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign never briefed the Canadian government on trade issues..."

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