UPDATE: I’m Less Confused

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Maybe this is the new message discipline they have been promising with Steve Schmidt at the helm. The McCain campaign has issued a statement on Obama’s comments today that–unlike the RNC’s–is somewhat consistent with what they were saying yesterday:

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign today released the following statement from McCain spokesman Brian Rogers concerning Barack Obama’s remarks on Iraq:

“Since announcing his campaign in 2007, the central premise of Barack Obama’s candidacy was his commitment to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq immediately. He campaigned in Iowa, New Hampshire and across the country reaffirming this pledge to the American people.

“Today, Barack Obama reversed that position proving once again that his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain’s position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it. Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country.

“Now that Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words, we would like to congratulate him for accepting John McCain’s principled stand on this critical national security issue. If he had visited Iraq sooner or actually had a one-on-one meeting with General Petraeus, he would have changed his position long ago.”

But has Obama really shifted? And if he has, is he the only one? Sometimes, it is handy to live in a two-reporter household. Mr. Swamp points me to this story that he wrote for the LA Times back in May. One key passage:

McCain has long denounced timetables for withdrawal, but said for the first time Thursday that he would like to see most U.S. troops out of Iraq by a specific date: 2013.

Obama has emphasized his plan to withdraw all combat brigades within 16 months of taking office, but also has carefully hedged, leaving the option of taking more time – and leaving more troops – if events require.

The positioning is noteworthy because McCain and Obama have made Iraq war policy a core element of their campaigns. But McCain has bowed to the political reality that American impatience with the war is growing, and Obama to the fact that a poorly executed exit would risk damage to other vital U.S. interests.

And here’s another:

On Iraq, the senator from Illinois has made it a point in public comments to guard his prerogatives as president. At campaign stops and in interviews, he has regularly emphasized his promise to start bringing home troops as soon as he is elected, and to bring home one or two combat brigades each month, so that the approximately 19 combat brigades are out within 16 months.

Less noticed is his promise that he will listen to military commanders and react to events on the ground – caveats that give him wide latitude.

Obama says he wants to keep a “follow-on force” in Iraq that would fight terrorists, protect U.S. forces and facilities, and train Iraqi forces. Obama has not provided an estimate of how large that force might be.

In a debate with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on April 16 in Philadelphia, Obama said: “I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics. Once I’ve given them a new mission … we are going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq.”

He continued: “If they come to me and want to adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration. But ultimately, the buck stops with me as the commander in chief.”

UPDATE: Danny Diaz of the RNC sends me this e-mail: “If there is any confusion, it should be laid at the feet of the Obama campaign. They are the ones obligated to articulate their Iraq position and I think scheduling two pressers in one day to try and answer questions about their stance tells the story.”