Yesterday Arianna Huffington called attention to something that’s hard me boiling mad for weeks now: the disappearance of Iraq as an issue in the presidential campaign. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Arianna. She’s too privileged – too rich, too connected, too Hollywood-ish, too often on Larry King. But she’s often spot-on, and so she was yesterday in calling the candidates and media to task for ignoring the war.
Given how similar the leading Democrats are on domestic issues, Iraq – and foreign policy in general – ought to be front and center in their campaigns. It’s their trump suit when it comes to winning in November, and it’s also one area where their records diverge notably. Yet lately they’ve been almost mum on the war. Guess they’ve been too busy slogging through the destructo-politics of race and gender.
For me, Obama’s early and consistent opposition to our attacking Iraq is the most compelling reason to support his candidacy. Yeah, he’s a rhetorical magician and stands a good chance of drawing votes even from committed Republicans. (I say this on the basis of a highly scientific poll of my family members, N=2, so take it with a big block of salt.) But his condemnation of the war is the deal-maker for me. It’s important enough to me that it neutralizes the allure of voting for the first female presidential contender.
Of course, you might object that the three leading Dems don’t differ greatly on what they’ll do to extricate us from the mess in Iraq. And that’s true. Our options are severely limited. Edwards may have a slightly more aggressive plan to draw down American troops faster and more completely, as some have argued, including Joshua Holland on Alternet. But even if that’s so, he’d be tightly constrained by Congress and the military leadership, just as any other possible president would be. Because of this, I’m not convinced there are practical differences in the candidates’ positions (apart from Kucinich and Ron Paul).
So why does Obama’s initial position on Iraq even matter, now that we’re neck-deep in a Mess-opotamia and have very few options to extricate ourselves? Because it’s our best indicator of how he’ll respond to Iran, Pakistan, and other nations that threaten international stability. Clinton’s rhetoric on Iran has been considerably harsher. She mocked Obama’s stated willingness to actually talk to Syria’s leadership. She voted for the Vile-Lieberman – I mean, Kyl-Lieberman – amendment, thus helping ratchet up our confrontation with Iran. And while it would be unfair to judge her solely on her husband’s record as president, it’s still worth noting that Bill Clinton had few reservations about dropping a bomb or two on Sudan or Iraq during his presidency.
Me, I’d rather have a president who’d mend fences and negotiate with foreign leaders rather than rattle the sabers and drop the bombs. And I think Obama will be that guy.