"After a strong push" by John McCain and his allies, "the Iraq war has moved back to center stage" in the race for the WH. The reason for the push? It's "part of a broader campaign to portray Obama as a neophyte who is prone to exaggerations and outright falsehoods to embellish his resume."
RNC spokesperson Alex Conant: "The next commander in chief is going to have to make decisions that will either lead to peace and security in Iraq or chaos and conflict. The voters need to know how the candidates will make that decision. And the fact that there are 2-year-old Iraqi children who weren't born the last time Obama was in their country raises questions about what he is making his decisions on." McCain has also been "attacking" Obama for "making up his mind about the war without visiting the war zone" (Weisman, Washington Post, 5/30). On 5/29, McCain said of Obama: "He does not have the knowledge or experience to make the judgements" on Iraq and other issues" (Sidoti, AP, 5/29).
Dems say don't take the bait. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA): "Frankly, his policy is about bringing our troops home sooner and safer, and that is a message resonating with the American people. I wouldn't do anything to validate Senator McCain's attempt to change the subject and create this red-herring debate."
But in a change of direction, Obama aides said 5/29 that he "is now considering a trip to Iraq as part of a long-deferred foreign tour." But the Obama camp "made it clear that he intends to assess how best to withdraw U.S. forces, not to reconsider whether they should be withdrawn." Obama comm. dir. Robert Gibbs: "For all the travel that he's done, what we're looking at is John McCain wanting to double down on George Bush's foreign policy, to leave our troops there for 100 years instead of putting pressure on the Iraqis to come to some sort of political reconciliation" (Washington Post, 5/30).
The McCain-Obama Iraq war exchange was a hot topic for TV talkers last p.m. Here's a sampling:
Obama strategist David Axelrod, asked if Obama going to Iraq would only be a photo op: "You raise a good point. ... There is value in the sense that if you talk to service people and get their perspective, not the big tours, not the dog and ponies, but if you talk to individual servicemen, there's value to doing that. The big photo ops are of no value at all. We all remember Senator McCain strolling down the promenade in Baghdad to show how safe it was with 100 SWAT team people around him. You know, there's no value in that" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 5/30).
Fortune's Easton, on the McCain camp: "I think they're betting on the fact that ... in the Senate hearings with Petraeus and Crocker, [Obama] didn't perform very well. Last September, he kind of dismissed the surge. In April, he looked kind of tentative. He just didn't come off really leaderly. But I think there is the potential that this could backfire on McCain, and that ... Barack Obama could actually go over there, and actually look good, and act presidential. And then there will be a visual" ("Special Report," FNC, 5/29).
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer: "What's important about this is not how Obama looks if he's over there. I think this will force him into a trip, and he will be elegant and smart and nimble, as he always is.But what's important is the press will have to cover what's happened in the war. One of our commanders has said that in the last three months everything has gone our way. That hasn't been covered. The coverage has declined as the new has improved. Having the press with Obama there will highlight the changes on the ground, and it makes McCain's case that we don't want to liquidate a war that we're actually winning now" ("Special Report," FNC, 5/29).
CNN's Crowley, asked if McCain going after Obama on Iraq is also an attack on Obama's experience: "Absolutely. If John McCain has his way, this election will be about national security, about who understands foreign policy, and about what the threat to the nation is. ... What Obama has to be careful about is playing on McCain's field, because what McCain wants to do is make security and the nation a home-and-hearth issue. ... They will push this as hard as they can to try to put Obama on the defensive" ("Election Center," 5/29).
Crowley, on whether Obama should respond to criticism over not taking a trip to Iraq recently: "You don't want to be responding. You want to be out there setting your own agenda. They did talk in the Obama campaign some time ago about putting him on some foreign trips, because, you know, you play on that stage and you look presidential. But then this campaign has gone on so long, he hasn't had the opportunity to do this. That he now says, well, I may go to Iraq obviously looked very much like a response to what McCain has been saying" ("Election Center," 5/29).
Politico's Cummings: "I do think that McCain scored some points today. I think he made Barack Obama go off his message. I think Barack Obama had to mention that indeed he might go visit Iraq. I think both of those things are wins for McCain, essentially because Barack Obama had to move over and start talking about what John McCain wanted to talk about today" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 5/29).
Dallas Morning News' Slater, on Obama going to Iraq: "He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He's goes over there, things are going fairly well, it undercuts his message. ... Clearly a tactical win by the McCain side" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 5/29).
In a column formatted as an open letter to Obama and McCain, New York Times' Brooks writes, "Your job is to restrain Iran's momentum until the fundamental correlation of forces can shift. ... Your job may be to wage rear-guard political battles until the ideological tide can turn. It's not glamorous work, but governing isn't campaigning. You volunteered for this" (5/30).
The upcoming American Israel Public Affairs Cmte conference will feature speeches by both Obama and McCain. Obama adviser Denis McDonough: "He has an awful lot of friends in Aipac. It is an important opportunity to talk to his friends. He attaches great importance to this" (Lake, New York Sun, 5/30).
This article appears in the May 30, 2008 edition of Latest Edition.