Could Iraq Surge Success, Paradoxically, Benefit Obama?

Could Iraq Surge Success, Paradoxically, Benefit Obama?

It's a sign of the weakness of the Republican Party and its nominee that Sen. John McCain's best chance of victory may lie in championing the hugely unpopular war in Iraq. Polls indicate that most Americans wish the war had never started, and would like to see American troops pulled out of the country sooner rather than later.

At the same time, though, Americans have a much more positive impression of the conduct of the war since early 2007. The troop surge, which which began that January, saw not only a temporary increase in American troops but also the introduction of a classic counterinsurgency strategy. It's far from clear that the improvements are permanent, but they have been dramatic and have lasted longer than a lot of the illusory "gains" periodically trumpeted by the Bush Administration since 2003. May 2007, as the surge was getting underway, was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops; May 2008 saw the fewest American fatalities. The decline in Iraqi deaths has also been striking.

McCain, as the highest-profile politician who supported the surge, has to hope that these positive trends will continue and that he can portray himself as a master of foreign policy who took an unpopular position that turned out to be right. Barack Obama, by contrast, would be the neophyte who would have surrendered when victory was still possible. This political tactic hinges on the belief that the situation in Iraq will not once again deteriorate -- always a dangerous assumption. More importantly, though, it relies on a misreading of how gains in Iraq have actually been accomplished. Ironically, the gains in Iraq may vindicate Obama's foreign policy approach rather than McCain's.

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