Obama on/in Iraq: Another rookie mistake?
CBS News’ Maria Gavrilovic is reporting that Sen. Barack Obama participated in a phone call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari today and indicated that he planned a trip to Iraq prior to the November elections.
Barack Obama told Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on the telephone this morning that he would end the U.S. occupation in Iraq and promised to visit the country before the general election in November.
“I told him that I look forward to seeing him in Baghdad,” Obama said to reporters.
When asked when that meeting would take place, Obama said his campaign will make an announcement soon but that he is interested in visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election.
Obama previously dodged an obvious political trap set by his opponent in refusing to take a joint trip to the region with Senator McCain which would have been rife with political overtones and short on solid international diplomatic effectiveness. I find myself reading this article and wondering if Obama has not managed to avoid one pitfall only to wander blindly into the next.
Speaking as a veteran, I will say that it is only natural for large numbers of our military to give their full throated and heartfelt support to the mission to which they are assigned. As such, it is no surprise that PR opportunities involving the troops will often show up favoring the party supporting the war and casting stones at the party opposing it. (For reference, see the now famous “Halp us Jon Carry” photo from the 2004 election, which the military did nothing to tamp down.)
Had Obama shown up alongside John McCain in Iraq, it would have been an obvious opportunity to muster large numbers of the troops supporting McCain to cheer him wildly and show cold disdain, if not outright scorn, for Senator Obama when they appeared together. But even going alone, Obama might find himself greeted with – at best – coldly indifferent crowds, or possibly even a hostile reception. Such a conflict will be immediately picked up by the media and broadcast by his opponent’s team to maximum effect on what is arguably his best issue.
The argument in favor of Obama visiting Iraq in person during a political campaign is weak tea at best. George W. Bush – the Commander In Chief of this operation – has spent only a handful of hours there over the entire course of the war. Each of these visits was conducted under blackout level security in the dead of night, guarded by massive troop support and restricted to only the safest areas of the country. None of this lends much credence to the theory that one needs to physically supervise the conflict to lead it.
How many of our seated Senators and House members travel regularly to Iraq? It’s not a requirement of the job in our era of modern communications. Those who constantly cry for our leaders to “put their faith in the troops on the ground” should also trust them to report accurately on activities in country. If Obama is goaded into a trip to Iraq, opening the door to untold political opportunities for his opponent while gaining virtually nothing for his own efforts or understanding, it would be yet another stumble of an inexperienced campaigner. If there is nobody at the wheel of Team Obama to point this out to him, he may well deserve to lose this one.