How “transformational” can Obama be?

An Obama supporting friend told me early last year that her concern was not whether he would be elected, but whether he’d be a great president. This weekend, the Washington Post seemed to take after my friend, asking how “transformational” a president he might be.  Jim Hoagland pointed to

the widening gap between Obama’s repeated attacks on “Washington’s conventional thinking” as the root of all evil and his reliance on established consensus when he is questioned in detail on Middle East peace, Iran, the U.S. position in its own hemisphere and other key issues….[H]e is largely right in arguing that new thinking is desperately needed in U.S. foreign policy — but he is failing to show how an Obama presidency would produce and apply such thinking to the policy disasters he decries. This means he is not using the campaign to gather public support for the specific steps that he will need to take if he is to be a “transformational” president.

The Post’s lead Saturday Editorial calls for him to demonstrate some “already-overdue rethinking.”

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

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