Back in 2004, Iraq was not only an issue in the Presidential campaign, it was the issue. Now, four years later and in the closing days of another race for an office that has as one of its most essential roles Commander in Chief, there is barely a whisper about that country and our policy there.
This is certainly not because the question was settled long ago. In the past year, events in Iraq have been changing so much that now the American public, so pessimistic before, acknowledges that the surge has been a success and the situation in Iraq looks quite promising:
In early January 2007, 71 percent of Americans said the Iraq war was going moderately badly to very badly. Indeed, the war had been unpopular for much of the previous years, at times deeply so. But by this past September, a nationwide Pew survey found “a striking rise in public optimism about the situation in Iraq.” According to the poll, 58 percent of Americans now believe the war in Iraq is going well or very well, and the same percentage now also say that the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed in Iraq.
One would think that this sort of change would mean John McCain would be in the catbird seat in his run for the Presidency. After all, he had been one of the strongest advocates for the surge when few others saw its possibilities, and his opponent Barack Obama was not only one of its most vociferous detractors, but continued to say it was a failure long after its pluses were obvious. To this day he defends his vote against the surge.
Well, welcome to the real world of American politics. Of course, if not for the financial crisis, it’s possible that more people would be thinking about Iraq and the surge—but they are not. That’s why most of the last-minute political maneuvering involves comparing tax proposals, mulling over just how socialist Obama might be, and affixing the blame as to which party is most responsible for the financial mess. Not only is there a great deal of confusion on all these scores, but the topics seem to have crowded out foreign policy as a major consideration for many people on Election Day.
Why? It’s not just that Americans seem to have a short attention span. It’s also at least partly (maybe even mostly) because the financial news hits home, up close and personal (especially for anyone with a 401K or who has money in stocks), in a way that Iraq cannot at this point except for those Americans with loved ones fighting there.
Another reason is that the press will suppress news that is favorable to McCain and unfavorable to its favorite, Obama. Not only that, news of the success of the surge is unfavorable to the MSM itself, which almost uniformly shared Obama and the Democrats’ early objections to its implementation.
So in protecting Obama from too much focus on the good news, the press is also protecting itself. It’s not so difficult to figure out that people don’t like to admit they were wrong, and will do almost anything to avoid doing so. So the press is motivated to report as little as possible about Iraq, which is a pretty easy prescription to follow.
Does anyone on earth imagine, however, that there will be no important foreign policy and military decisions to be made in the administration of the next President? Hardly. We have to judge the two candidates in light of this fact.
Of course, there are many who think that Obama’s early opposition to the war in Iraq is all that matters regarding the country, and that his later poor judgment is irrelevant. There are those who think his reliance on the power of talking with the enemy is a wonderful development that will help the world to love us again. And there are those (such as myself) who think he is a dangerously naive neophyte, at best.
But whatever opinion a person may hold on which man has the better approach, these are now—and will no doubt remain—exceedingly important issues. And the best example of both men’s judgment that we have is their actual performance on the surge, both in the days of the initial proposal, and after it was implemented and found to be working (Obama’s risk-free early opposition to the war having occurred when he was a State Senator in a district so heavily liberal that he probably would have been run out of town if he’d said anything else). I know who I think has shown by far the better judgment.
[ADDENDUM: A helpful summary of what the press is leaving out about the Obama campaign by the superb Victor Davis Hanson. And I've even managed to learn how to spell his name properly this time.]