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Kristol off the reservation

In watching conservatives pick apart Obama's Iraq speech last week, I was struck by this thought: They can't stand the sight of the guy.

It was no surprise that folks on the right believed that O should have given more credit to Bush, whose 2007 surge made the pullout possible. But the criticism was more visceral than that, with Charles Krauthammer and others saying the president regards Iraq as a mere "distraction" from his main goal of remaking America. The general tenor reminded me of liberals who winced every time W. opened his mouth.

After all, by withdrawing all but 50,000 U.S. military advisers, Obama was following a blueprint set out by his predecessor; almost no one is suggesting that he should have left more troops in Iraq. What's more, by escalating the war in Afghanistan, Obama is basically in accord with the right (although its members don't like his 2011 withdrawal target) and increasingly at odds with his own party.

Bill Kristol is no Obama fan, but he broke with the conservative criticism in the Weekly Standard:

"President Obama opposed the war in Iraq. He still thinks it was a mistake. It's therefore unrealistic for supporters of the war to expect the president to give the speech John McCain would have given, or to expect President Obama to put the war in the context we would put it in. He simply doesn't believe the war in Iraq was a necessary part of a broader effort to fight terror, to change the Middle East, etc. Given that (erroneous) view of his, I thought his speech was on the whole commendable, and even at times impressive...

"In sum, the president seemed to me to go about as far as an anti-Iraq war president could go in praising the war effort."

Much of the left detests Kristol as a zealous backer of the Iraq war. But on this occasion, he gave the president his due.

By Howard Kurtz  |  September 1, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
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Next: The Obama conundrum

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