Whatever happened to "absolute clarity"?
Barack Obama struggled Thursday in two separate news conferences to explain his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
Obama said in the first of two Fargo, N.D., media availabilities that he will "continue to refine" his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 16 months when he travels to the war-torn country later this month to meet with American military commanders.
"I've always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed," said Obama. "And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies."
Obama's openness to adjust his 16-month withdrawal plan was somewhat at odds with the stance he took during a recent ABC News debate. At the time, Obama seemed to stand by his campaign manager's unambiguous pledge to have troops out of Iraq in 16 months "at the most."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters on March 7 that Obama has been "crystal clear with the American people that if and when he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in -- as he said, the time frame would be about 16 months at the most where you withdraw troops. There should be no confusion about that with absolute clarity."
At the April 16 debate in Philadelphia, ABC News' Charlie Gibson asked Obama about his campaign manager's unambiguous pledge.
Obama seemed to stand by Plouffe's words, saying, "the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie."
Later in the same answer, the Illinois Democrat gave himself some wiggle room "with respect to tactics."
"[I]f they come to me and want to adjust tactics," said Obama, referring to U.S. commanders in Iraq, "then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration."
But he still asserted that he would be the one providing commanders with what he calls "the mission."
Obama's comments on refining his Iraq policies are also at odds with the Iraq plan that he currently has on his campaign website.
Under a "Bringing Our Troops Home" header, Obama's website says: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."
When asked at his hastily arranged second press conference about the website's claim, Obama said, "I have to say that there is nothing that that website says that contradicts what I've said here. I will bring this war to close; I think it is important for us to do strategically."
Obama insisted that his position on Iraq had not changed and said that suggestions to the contrary had come from the McCain campaign.
"I guess I'm just puzzled," said Obama when asked how he would explain his position over the next four months if he had struggled to do so over a few hours on Thursday.
"I think what's happened," he continued, "is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn't. And that just hasn't been the case. I've given no indication of a change in policy. I haven't suggested that we're moving in a different direction."
For more, turn to: "Obama Struggles to Explain Iraq Stance"
--Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Carole Rome accepting his engagement proposal