The Greatest Irony…

…of the just-concluded Presidential campaign, as I’ve said before, is that both John McCain and Barack Obama began the primaries as candidates whose main focus was on foreign affairs. Obama was the antiwar candidate, McCain the national security hawk. By yesterday those positions, which largely drove the early primaries, had become almost irrelevant. McCain proved right on the surge in Iraq, but because he was right the war has pretty much been won and therefore is no longer a compelling issue.

In all of the post mortems on yesterday’s election, I’ve seen very little on the impact of an Obama presidency on Iraq. I believe, and I think most observers believe, that going forward, Obama’s policy on Iraq will be essentially the same as President Bush’s.

While Obama the candidate refused to admit that he had been wrong about the surge, Obama the President will not dare risk losing Iraq, now that most Americans believe that the war is on the brink of success. From today’s Rasmussen Reports:

Voter confidence about the situation in Iraq has hit an all time high.

51% of voters now expect the situation in Iraq to improve over the next six months. … Just 17% of voters now say the situation will get worse in the coming months….

Forty-two percent (42%) now believe the U.S. mission in Iraq will be judged as a success while 40% hold the opposite view and say it will be judged as a failure.

Respondents are even more optimistic about the state of our conflict with Islamic terrorists:

[O]n election night, 52% of voters said that the U.S. and its allies are winning the War on Terror. That’s down three percentage points from last week.
Only 19% say the terrorists are winning the war….

Barring some unforeseen event, President Bush will have the satisfaction when he leaves office of knowing that most Americans recognize the success of his policies in Iraq and more broadly in the war on terror, even though he personally won’t get much credit.

Which leads to this observation: the war in Iraq is more popular than President Bush. The conventional wisdom is that popular dismay over the long conflict in Iraq is the cause (certainly the primary cause) of the low approval ratings that have characterized most of Bush’s second term. But these poll data consistently show that currently, more people approve of the war in Iraq–“favor” it, or say that invading Iraq was the right thing to do–than approve of President Bush’s performance in office.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe some who approve of the war are still angry about Bush’s position on illegal immigration. Or maybe some who approve of the war blame Bush (wrongly) for the financial crisis; except that his approval ratings were already low before the crisis and haven’t been impacted much by it.

My own guess is that the President and his administration have been the object of such vicious and unremitting attacks by the left and the press for more than five years that disapproval of the President has become unmoored from any issue and is now more or less mandatory in itself.

PAUL adds: I agree that Obama is unlikely to squander the success that President Bush’s strategy, belatedly adopted after Sen. McCain had advocated it for several years, has produced. And the irony is indeed thick.

John is also quite correct about how dramatically the focus of the race changed. Almost exactly one year ago, I spent a long Saturday on McCain’s campaign bus in New Hampshire. The discussions were wide-ranging, encompassing whatever we wanted to ask McCain about, and included a variety of domestic issues. But the only mention of the economy as such was McCain’s statement that he wanted a running mate who understands it.

UPDATE: I told you so:

The Iraqi government is confident that president-elect Barack Obama will not jeopardize Iraq’s improving security by hastily withdrawing U.S. troops, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Wednesday.

Obama has “reassured us that he would not take any drastic or dramatic decisions,” Zebari told BBC television.

It is entirely coincidental that this came out the day after the election!

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