Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Iraq War may ‘make or break’ candidates

John McCain’s veteran status and close links to the war’s current strategy could work for or against him, as could Barack Obama’s long-standing opposition to the war

By Liz Sidoti  /  AP , MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

Senator John McCain tore into Senator Barack Obama over a two-year Iraq absence. The likely Democrat nominee then said he was considering a war zone trip.

Point: McCain.

Obama assailed the Republican nominee-in-waiting over his comment that troops “have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” McCain was not exactly accurate.

Point: Obama.

Score on Iraq: Even — at least for last week.

McCain, a four-term senator who supports a continued military presence, and Obama, a first-term senator calling for withdrawal, engaged in a weeklong spat over the war. They are jockeying for the upper hand on a campaign issue each thinks works to his advantage.

Previewing a dispute certain to continue through the general election, each presidential hopeful is claiming that he has exhibited better decision-making on Iraq than his rival, and, thus, would be the stronger commander in chief. The voters will decide in six months.

“It’s been 873 days since Senator Obama visited Iraq,” McCain said on Friday and argued anew that his rival’s position would lead to chaos and genocide. “This is what the presidency and being commander in chief is all about — having the knowledge and the experience and the background to make the right judgments.”

McCain noted that he spent four years calling for US President George W. Bush to put more troops in Iraq before the president adopted the strategy that has been credited with curbing violence.

“My judgment has been very clear on this issue,” McCain said.

Obama, in turn, argues that he has shown the better judgment by opposing the war from the beginning.

“John McCain was for the invasion of Iraq; I opposed it. John McCain wants to continue George Bush’s war in Iraq indefinitely; I want to end it,” Obama said.

The Democrat frequently calls McCain’s judgment into question, lambasting his too-rosy assessments of the war after he strolled through a Baghdad market under heavy protection last year and a previous gaffe over the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

Now, he is citing McCain’s latest troop-level estimate, saying: “That’s not true and anyone running for commander in chief should know better.”

Iraq has fallen behind the economy among the topics voters rank highest in importance, but the war still will be a major general election issue. Bush’s successor will inherit a conflict that has cost more than 4,000 US military lives and an estimated US$500 billion over five years, and McCain and Obama have vastly different viewpoints on it.

The political headwinds are heavily against Republicans and most of the country does not agree with McCain’s call for a continued military presence.

Still, McCain’s advisers see him more likely to win if he can keep the conversation focused on national security, long the Republican Party’s strength. It is certainly McCain’s; he’s a former Vietnam prisoner of war with decades of military experience in the Navy and the Senate. Thus, McCain is using Iraq to cast Obama as naive, reckless and unprepared to make necessary tough decisions.

Despite those efforts, McCain’s fortunes on this front are largely out of his control; he is intimately linked to the war’s current strategy he long had advocated and could be undercut politically if violence flares up again.

Obama, for his part, sees Iraq as a winner for Democrats, given the public’s deep weariness with the conflict and overall desire for change. He is in line with most Americans who tell pollsters they want it to end.

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