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Obama’s Iraq Dilemma

The widespread conviction among Democrats that we are destined to fail in Iraq was the key to Barack Obama’s emergence as Presidential front-runner. He postured himself as the candidate who had opposed the war from the beginning. But what helped Obama in the Democratic primaries may prove his undoing in the general election. Through the months when Obama’s dedication to failure was bringing him closer to the nomination, conditions in Iraq were improving, not worsening. This contradiction is now becoming acute, and Obama faces it squarely as he tries to decide whether, how and when to go to Iraq.

The McCain campaign understands Obama’s discomfiture; hence McCain’s invitation to Obama to accompany him on a trip there, and the campaign’s running tally of the number of days since Obama visited Iraq in 2006. The problem for Obama is that it is hard to see how he can go to Iraq without acknowledging that the surge has succeeded, violence has been reduced, and the Iraqis are making considerable political progress. If he goes to Iraq, he has to meet with generals, soldiers and Marines, and they will tell him these things. But if Obama admits that we are succeeding in Iraq, he is admitting that John McCain was right all along. He can’t do that.

For the time being, Obama can dodge the problem by staying away from Iraq and speaking in platitudes before adoring audiences of hard-core Democrats. But the problem won’t go away. Obama’s Iraq policy is increasingly at odds with realities on the ground, and more and more voters are becoming aware of that fact. Obama can’t stay away from Iraq until November. His advisers must be trying to figure out how to fit such a trip into a narrative that will hold water through the election. For now, they may just be hoping for things to get worse. But when they do finally announce a trip to Iraq, the nature of that visit will likely hold the key to how Obama intends to handle the increasingly dangerous (for him) issue of Iraq in the fall.

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