Iraq is still an issue that can beat Obama
While some are still touting Obama's trip as flawless his answer to the questions about the surge were a major gaffe that will continue to haunt him as was his answer about visiting the troops. Most of his answers since the trip have been to try to spin and do damage control.
In a race supposedly dominated by the economy, both Barack Obama and John McCain have spent a lot of time talking about Iraq. Why? Because both men have Iraq problems that are causing difficulties for their campaigns.
How each candidate resolves his Iraq problems may determine who voters come to see as best qualified to set American foreign policy.
If Mr. McCain wins the argument on Iraq, he will add to his greatest strength -- a perceived fitness to be commander in chief and lead the global war on terror. As the underdog, Mr. McCain needs to convince voters that he is overwhelmingly the better choice on the issue.
Mr. Obama needs to win the argument because his greatest weakness is inexperience and a perceived unreadiness to be president. That's dangerous. Voters believe keeping America safe and strong is a president's most important responsibility.
Mr. McCain's first Iraq problem is that he favored removing Saddam Hussein when it was popular -- 76% of Americans thought it was worth going to war in April 2003 -- and has maintained his support of the war even as it grew to be unpopular. In January, only 32% of Americans said the war was worth it.
Mr. McCain's second Iraq problem is that the success of the surge he advocated has made it easier for voters to believe we can accelerate the drawdown of U.S. troops. This belief makes Mr. Obama's proposal to withdraw in 16 months seem more reasonable.
Mr. McCain's position was further complicated recently when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to give a semiendorsement of Mr. Obama's withdrawal plan. Mr. Maliki actually agrees with Mr. McCain that a timetable should be aspirational and based on conditions on the ground, which is why he said U.S. troops should be withdrawn by 2010 "if possible."
Some Iraqis are anxious to have American troops leave and some are not -- which is why Mr. Maliki treads a fine line on withdrawal. Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, this only complicates things for his campaign.
Mr. Obama's problem is he opposed the policy that created the progress that makes victory in Iraq possible. Mr. Obama's unbending opposition to the surge undermines his fundamental argument that he has better judgment on national security. Mr. McCain needs to use Mr. Obama's retrospective mistake to shape voters' prospective conclusion, convincing them that Mr. Obama's badly flawed judgment on the surge shows he cannot be trusted with major foreign-policy decisions.
Mr. Obama also created a problem by canceling a visit to U.S. soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and are now recuperating at Landstuhl hospital in Germany. His campaign has offered a welter of explanations. What's the real one? My rule is that when in doubt, see what a candidate said at the time and judge his candor. In a July 26 London news conference, Mr. Obama explained: "I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisers, a former military officer. And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy, but he wasn't on the Senate staff."
The solution was obvious. Leave the campaign adviser behind and visit the wounded troops. Mr. Obama's decision to work out in the hotel gym instead adds to his growing reputation for arrogance.
Most importantly, Mr. Obama missed the opportunity to show he can admit a mistake. He could have said that what he saw on his visit to Iraq convinced him that the surge was right and its success now allows U.S. troops to be safely drawn down. Instead, he insisted he was right to say the surge wouldn't work.
On Iraq, it is clear that Obama was wrong. His judgement that the surge would not work was wrong. His willingness to accept genocide showed where his heart was on the most critical decision of the war.
BTW, Rove's statements focusing on what Obama actually said about not going to see the wounded troops makes the media attempts to undermine the McCain ad look like they ahve joined the Obama spin machine.