The Note: Patriot Games

"With the general election four months away, Obama's rhetoric on the topic [of Iraq] now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far," George Packer writes in The New Yorker. "He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, re├źnergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia's recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse."

One McCain adviser tells The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "He is in a bad place. Caught between his promise to his base and the reality on the ground. Immediate withdrawal isn't a good place to be."

A hint of how careful he'll have to be: "In Iraq, my goal is to talk to the Iraqi leadership about making political progress so that we can start phasing down our troops in Iraq and obviously I want to congratulate the troops for the extraordinary work they've done in reducing violence there," Obama tells Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

The Washington Times' Joseph Curl rounds up the foreign-policy gaffes that have sidetracked Obama early on. "Mr. Obama, on the plus side, is extremely popular in Europe, and an enthusiastic welcome will likely play endlessly on U.S. cable news programs. But a major misstep will open the door to fierce criticism."

The real world intrudes: The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde have the scoop on a delayed "secret plan to make it easer for the Pentagon's Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda."

"But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light," they write. "The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was 'mounting frustration' in the Pentagon at the continued delay." And Seymour Hersh, with another one of those New Yorker bombshells: "Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership."

Until the candidates pack their bags, the coin of the realm in matters domestic and foreign is consistency. And we now see what both Obama and McCain risk losing with their concessions to calculation.

"Sen. John McCain's allies have seized on a new and aggressive line of attack against Sen. Barack Obama, casting the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as an opportunistic and self-obsessed politician who will do and say anything to get elected," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. (What took so long?)

"[Obama adviser Steve] Schmidt said in an interview that the campaign intends to point out 'every day' that Obama broke his promise to accept public financing for his campaign, and that he has not made good on his pledge to debate his Republican opponent anytime and anywhere," Shear continues.

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