Obama's earlier remarks on Iraq have been highly political and devoid of much consideration of actual military/political force in the country. His high-speed withdrawal plans came without a single conversation with a US military commander involved in the theatre, and has had no good answer (that I can find) for media that have proposed the question that a quick withdrawal may lead to a surge in violence.
But Obama his changing his tune. He actually plans to sit down with military commanders, and might "refine" his Iraq stance in light of evidence. What a novel idea!
But an idealistic young senator running for president is not going to change his long-defended Iraq stance before the election--even if it is a good idea--unless there is a public opinion reason involved. Obama's remarks are preparing the base of the Democratic party--many of them ardently opposed to any coninued US presence in Iraq--for a shift away from telling them what they want to hear, and a shift towards some deeper thought on the subject.
Is Obama trying to make sure he does not end up on the wrong side of the Iraq debate? Maybe, but polling is currently in favor of his old stance--70% of Americans either want troops removed right away or within a year.
Interestingly, Americans are starting to change their idea of just how effective the surge has been:
Does this change in assessment mean a change in opinion is also coming? Why does Obama now want to soften a hard stance that has seemed to work for him so well? Is he simply looking to try to catch moderate Republicans without losing his left-wing base?
Or is he simply so confident in his victory (he shouldn't be--old "comeback McCain" still has a few tricks up his sleeve) that he can actually afford to ignore politics and pursue a more rational strategy in Iraq?