Where We Stand on Iraq
Last week’s commemoration of the Iraq War’s fifth anniversary got me thinking about the conflict’s evolving status as a campaign issue in the presidential race. In recent months, increasing voter concerns over the economy and decreasing American casualties in Iraq seemed to hold out the possibility that the issue would not be the political flash point in November 2008 that it was during midterm elections in November 2006.
Public opinion on the conflict continues to be mixed. While a majority of Americans think that the decision to use military force in Iraq was wrong, almost as many citizens believe that the security situation on the ground there is improving. Still, as the U.S. military records its 4000th casualty, and plans for a post-surge troop withdrawal appear increasingly imperiled, it is by no means certain that the conflict’s most volatile moment as a campaign issue has passed.
Yet, the evolving nature of the military conflict seems almost secondary to the way in which the candidates are set in their respective policy positions on issue. I wrote back in January that with regard to Iraq, voters in November would likely face one of the starkest foreign policy choices in recent memory. That still seems to be the case today, and I do not anticipate the policy gap between parties closing anytime soon. John McCain continues to stake his campaign on a successful surge in Iraq, while both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pin theirs on a willingness to begin the process of troop withdrawal shortly after entering office. I would be stunned to see that change in the next eight months, which suggests that the Iraq War will be a focal point of political conflict for the remainder of the presidential race, even if other issues like the economy compete for voter attention.

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