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Five Years On, Iraq Slips Off the Radar

By Peter Baker
As a candidate for president in 1952, in the midst of a prolonged and unresolved foreign war, Dwight D. Eisenhower promised, "I will go to Korea." That helped propel him to the White House.

As a candidate for president in 2008, in the midst of a prolonged and unresolved foreign war, John McCain actually went to Iraq. But no one even noticed.

This was supposed to be the week of Iraq, the week that the fifth anniversary of the invasion focused the nation's attention back on its turbulent project in the Middle East. McCain in a flak vest went to see the troops while his two Democratic rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, denounced the war back home. Antiwar activists made plans to throng the streets of Washington to protest the institutions they blame for the Iraq war (including The Washington Post).

And yet the war debate that gripped the capital last year has slipped off the front burner. The collapse of the housing market, the bailout of Bear Sterns, the gun case before the Supreme Court, even Obama's racially provocative minister have all overshadowed what once seemed like the issue of our times. Take a look at today's front pages -- The Post, New York Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Detroit News, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Charlotte Observer, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cleveland Plain Dealer all featured the economic problems but no Iraq story. A quick review of today's major papers found front-page Iraq stories only in the Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune and USA Today.

The falling profile for the war in today's political and media dialogue has tracked the decreasing violence in Iraq, even with notable exceptions such as yesterday's suicide bombing that killed 40 in Karbala. The approach (or many say, arrival) of recession has forced the political world to confront the economy instead. Polls show that Iraq not only is not the top issue for voters any more but no longer even the second-biggest issue.

That does not mean the public has grown any fonder of the war. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found that just 34 percent of Americans think the war was worth fighting, exactly the same proportion that felt that way in February 2007 shortly after President Bush ordered 30,000 more troops to Iraq. But there is a sense among Americans that things are finally getting better on the ground. Forty-three percent now believe significant progress is being made in Iraq, up from 31 percent in December 2006.

That is both good news and bad news for McCain, of course. The senator from Arizona and presumptive Republican nominee commands a stronger position now that the situation seems to be getting better, given his strong support for the war and Bush's "surge" of troops last year. And yet, it also means that the conversation is turning away from national security, where he is viewed as most qualified, and toward the economy and other issues, where by his own admission he is not as seasoned.

Similarly, the new dynamic is good and bad for Clinton and Obama. The senators from New York and Illinois both predicated their campaigns a year ago on tapping the enormous intensity of antiwar fervor in the Democratic base and the broad discontent among moderates and independents with a conflict that could be blamed on a Republican nominee running on Bush's legacy. Now they are focusing on subprime mortgages and race and retooling their campaigns for a different environment.

While McCain's trip to Iraq went largely unnoticed, Clinton yesterday gave a speech on the fifth anniversary of the war only to face questions about the economy, and Obama tried to fend off attacks stemming from his Chicago pastor's racially charged sermons. And for McCain, not only did the trip get little attention, it became overshadowed by Vice President Cheney's own unannounced trip to Baghdad, thus further tying the senator to the incumbent administration in the public mind.

Iraq no doubt will get more attention again tomorrow, on the actual anniversary, and again in early April, when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker return to brief Congress again. And it may be as much of a mistake to assume now that Iraq will no longer be a dominant issue as it was to see it as the likely main one last year.

One thing the changing climate shows is that politics is never so simple or predictable. After all, if seven months ago the election seemed to turn entirely on Iraq and today it seems less focused on the war, who knows what will be front and center seven months from now?

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 18, 2008; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , John McCain , Morning Cheat Sheet  
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Comments

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Posted by: vmuxbsqzc ilyv | April 16, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: vmuxbsqzc ilyv | April 16, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Iraq has slipped off the front pages of American newspapers has a lot to do with decisions of the very same papers, including The Washington Post.

This past weekend saw the Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Spring which vividly and viscerally described veterans' experiences with the brutality, racism, frustration, and feeling of abandonment in this war and occupation. However, no major media besides Pacifica radio seems to have paid any attention to the soldiers (though the post did include a story in the local section of the paper, not the front pages). Meanwhile, George Bush bizarrely declares victory in Iraq and John McCain foolishly repeats false assertions that Al Qaeda is being trained by Iran.

American Journalism is failing the American people, just as it did in the run up to the Iraq war, by not taking seriously what first hand witnesses like American soldiers have to say and by uncritically repeating demonstrably false statements by the leaders of this war policy.

Posted by: cyfitzafterhours | March 19, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Let me tell you something. Nobody (I repeat) nobody who was imprisoned by the Communist would ever be the same. Their mind is forever altered. McCain is messed up in the head and if he were to be elected, this country would be going to be far worse than you would have ever seen.

Posted by: HoaLu | March 18, 2008 8:04 PM | Report abuse

I find the following amazing and baffling:

"But there is a sense among Americans that things are finally getting better on the ground. Forty-three percent now believe significant progress is being made in Iraq, up from 31 percent in December 2006."

But upon further analysis, and in context with our recent history, let me offer this. First and foremost, every indicator of "civil society" shows that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq. Whether it be electricity, water, food, or more complex issues like national identity overcoming sectarian/ethnic divisions and basic law enforcement, things are on the whole getting worse. Only a fool would attempt to argue otherwise.

But in parts of Iraq, and I mean the parts of Iraq that are not Iraq any longer, like the majority of Iraqi Kurdistan, individuals and communities are picking up some of the pieces and moving forward IN SPITE OF THE U.S. OCCUPATION AND IRAQI GOVERNMENT. Please absorb this distinction. In order for an Iraqi town to move forward, the direction is not toward a unified, diverse and democratic Iraq, but rather, quite the opposite. In the areas where basic services and some modicum of civil society are emerging, they are doing so in spite of U.S. and Iraqi efforts. Take a hard look around the relatively secure and prosperous parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and you see no evidence of "Iraq."

I go back to our previous experience, Viet Nam, to show my most fundamental point. In spite of our best efforts to create a nation, the people inside of our neat lines don't want to cooperate. The leadership at the national level in South Viet Nam failed to overcome racial and sectarian divisions that made "The Republic of Viet Nam" a figment of our imagination. When pressed, sectarian and ethnic divisions prevailed. The (lack of)leadership of the Republic of Viet Nam gave Vietnamese no better alternative. The same is happening in Iraq right now.

Sunnis look at a Shia dominated government with distrust, Kurds do their own thing, and the Shia are divided as to how to deal with the Sunnis. And the elephant in the room is Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army. They are, for the most part, sitting this one out, waiting for an opportunity to settle old scores, crush the Sunni militias, and impose their own deal with the "Iraqi" government. Just like the NVA in late 1971 and again in 1974, we knew they were there, we knew what they were capable of, we just chose to ignore them because we could not draw them out in to a fight on our terms. Fight and talk, talk and fight. Anyone heard that in the halls of the Pentagon recently? Not.

Things are happening in parts of Iraq IN SPITE OF U.S. and Iraqi help, and I commend local Iraqi leaders for taking care of their own on a local and parochial basis. They do so against horrific odds, at great personal risk, and with little or no help. They are the true patriots in this whole mess. But their combined efforts do not equal a "national" effort, nor do they equal a "nation" in the full sense of the word.

We continue to work at 90% security operations (bullets), and 10% at civic actions (bread). In a successful counterinsurgency, the exact opposite ratio of effort is the key to success. Our current levels of effort in both bullets and bread are the most damning evidence I can find to show our absolute failure.

So back to the polls. The American public is watching a riot, and thinks it is baseball. They may like what they see, but they are not really sure what the score is, nor can they tell us the end result of the activity they see on the field. This is a failure of our national leadership to tell the American people, and especially our troops, exactly how we are going to fight this, how we are going to measure success, and then get on with the job. "You are doing a great job, Brownie." I feel so inspired now. Semper Fidelis, and may God, or whomever you chose, forgive us and help us.

Posted by: nrringlee | March 18, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

The war is off whose radar? Not mine. Maybe it's off the media's radar.

Where is the coverage of the dead Iraqis every day? The GIs blown up by roadside bombs? Where are the pictures of veterans'hospitals and what their families are going through, now five years later?

Where are the true pictures of the suffering going on in Iraq, especially among the children there?

If anything is off the radar, it's because the people who want this war to continue infinitum are responsible. Get it straight.

Posted by: disunion | March 18, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

McInsane won't stop the occupation of Iraq or fix the economy. He's 4 more years of Chimpy.

Anybody who votes for McSame is an idiot.

Posted by: TomIII | March 18, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Iraq has not dropped from the radar for most Americans.
We care deeply about the ongoing carnage.
We care deeply about the wounded and maimed and killed.

It is the media that has caved to pressure by the Bush administration to stop showing what is happening in Iraq.

It is the media that doesn't care about our soldiers.
It is the media that shames America on a daily basis.

Posted by: lennyjazz | March 18, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Iraq has not dropped from the radar for most Americans.
We care deeply about the ongoing carnage.
We care deeply about the wounded and maimed and killed.

It is the media that has caved to pressure by the Bush administration to stop showing what is happening in Iraq.

It is the media that doesn't care about our soldiers.
It is the media that shames America on a daily basis.

Posted by: lennyjazz | March 18, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Wonder how our men and women of the armed forces feel about our inattention to their service?

Posted by: slavin2 | March 18, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Everyone keeps harping about Iran. I would have to imagine McCain is possibly more focused on Korea.

Possibly Indochina as well. ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 18, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

This is why McCain has little hope against one of the Democrats, as this example vs Barack shows here;

Obama vs. McCain- The Internet Indicators:

http://newsusa.myfeedportal.com/viewarticle.php?articleid=48

Posted by: davidmwe | March 18, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

This misbegoten war has gone on so long it has become background noise, largely unnoticed now. Too bad since it is the worst foreign policy blunder the US has ever made. We should apologize to everyone and pack up and leave.

Posted by: GMillerN | March 18, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

This misbegoten war has gone on so long it has become background noise, largely unnoticed now. Too bad since it is the worst foreign policy blunder the US has ever made. We should apologize to everyone and pack up and leave.

Posted by: GMillerN | March 18, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

.

Mitt Romney is weird and completely out of touch with the rest of the planet, excluding the world's population of CEOs, of course... and many of them probably consider him weird.

He belongs in a board room. That's why he lost, despite the Huge financial advantages. People don't get him. He's weird and awkward and nervous. That's not going to help.

.

Posted by: LeftwithNochoice | March 18, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

YAY!

Well, now that the War is won, or the nation-building done, or the WMD are secured, time to leave our new sovereign buddies alone over there, let them become allies with Iran (which Most dimwits could have predicted, with the exception of GW Bush and his retarded subordinates), and let them sell their oil to China in Euros.

What a joke.

Oh, that's right. We can Never leave because we want to fight them there and not here. Why again, is Al Qaeda allowed sanctuary in Pakistan?

I wish McAint had another ten years left in him. We could send him to be governor of Iraq as he's already got plenty of experience governing deserts.

As long as there's oil in the ground there, We'll be there, militarily or not. The United States of Exxon/Mobil aint walking away from shareholder Crack no matter how many poor people die. That doesn't affect their bottom line.

Posted by: LeftwithNochoice | March 18, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

'But, maybe we felt it was worth the effort to remind the Revolutionary Guards, that THEY are not being forgotten! ;~)'

'We?'

Sorry, but your explanation is almost as silly as McCain's comments.

Posted by: kenonwenu | March 18, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

kenonwenu-No, and Yes.

It might have been a gaffe, BUT, it also might have been a statement made to provoke a reaction on purpose, by someone who could actually do it, without all the Implications that Bushie, or another in a different Position would have brought on.

In other words, McCain could call it a gaffe, and get away with it. What it comes down to is being able to PROVE it. The unsubstantiated accusation might actually be substantial, and by proving it, we could lose our ties with the source we might have, that is currently embedded with the Enemies.

But, maybe we felt it was worth the effort to remind the Revolutionary Guards, that THEY are not being forgotten! ;~)

LOL, THEY need to remember, even a Disciple of Christ, was able to be "Bought"! ;~)

Then again, unlike OUR Morons in Charge, Ahmadinejad probably DOES use Polygraphs on the Natural Born Liars around there! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 18, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

The press compartmentalizing the issues so neatly helps. Part of the current economic disaster is the result of the three trillion plus the Bush Administration spent on its misadventure in Iraq. So they ARE related!

Posted by: thrh | March 18, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

It reminds me of the TV news reports during the end of the Vietnam Wars. "Negotiations resume and the bombings continue, these and other headlines on World News!" Wars that are ought based on lies will always end in disaster. How many lives? How many Trillions of dollars? Why? For what?

Posted by: thebobbob | March 18, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

So, Rat-the, you are saying that McCain was right in accusing Iran of training al-Qaeda.

Then you must be saying he was wrong in retracting those statements and correcting himself, no?

Either way he's made a major arse out of himself and proven he's no Iraq expert ... far from it.

I'll bet even Dubya wouldn't have gotten that one wrong. McCain's ignorance boggles the mind.

Posted by: kenonwenu | March 18, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It was very characteristic of Cheney to step on coverage of McCain's trip.

By far McCain's greatest weakness this year -- much worse than his age, his temper, or his impatience with issues he is not personally interested in -- is the unpopularity of the incumbent Republican administration. The best thing that administration, and its least popular official the Vice President, could do for McCain would be to put its head down and keep it down until November (in addition to which, of course, the fact that we already have a Secretary of State and a Secretary of Defense means that Vice Presidential trips to trouble spots abroad are superfluous in any event).

Bush and Cheney, though, won't be able to help themselves. Loyalty to them is a one-way street; they have none to McCain, and will keep themselves in the public eye right through the election. This will make it easier for the Democrats to tie the Bush administration around McCain's neck like a one-ton lead necklace.

Posted by: jbritt3 | March 18, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Some think that with the economy tanking that we've forgotten about the war; that debates focused on subtle nuances of domestic policy, or age or gender or race are what really matters in 2008.

Some look at national polls or a headline and conclude that no one is thinking about the War: that the war has been pushed aside.

Well, Mr. Baker, I will guarantee that the grandparents, parents, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters of the tens of thousands of Americans killed or maimed in Iraq NEVER STOP thinking about the war.

And they live in communities that think about the loss or terrible maiming of a neighbor - of the kid from down the street.

Or they go to church or synagogue with someone that has been affected by the War - as the pastor, priest or rabbi asks for our prayers for those who have sacrificed their young lives.

And they lay flowers at some spontaneous, tender shrine on an empty high school football field or by the flagpole that sits out front of the school.

And they grieve.

And, then they go back to their chores - - but, sometimes they find tears rolling down their cheeks, and they cry again for the one they lost, or for the continuing pain of the one they love.

And, they think about the war we did not need to fight.

And, they think about the people that voted to authorize the war. The war without a goal or any criteria for how it will be won.

And they wait...

for November 4, 2008.

So it is with me...

Posted by: gandalfthegrey | March 18, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

7 PM nightly Iraq war report:

Things are going well. Freedom is on the march. Less bombings and killings but we still have a long way to go since the country is in ruins, there are no jobs, soldiers get blown up regularly and a few stray rockets always seem to go off in the wrong places. Overall, the Pentagon says: "we're cautiously optimistic; what we're doing seems to be working."

Repeat over and over for the next 50 years (which is what the British did before they finally left) or before the oil runs out.

Posted by: drWU | March 18, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

McCain's enormous misstep in claiming today that Iran was backing the Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq will return this issue to the front burner. Do we really want someone who is so completely ignorant of the most basic political and religious issues in the Middle East running our foreign policy? McCain has already told us he knows nothing about economics, now we see that he knows nothing about international affairs either. Just plain scary.

Simultaneously, Obama delivers a thoughtful, well-reasoned, intelligent, and empathetic address on the extremely complex issue of race in America. The contrast between these two candidates is, dare I say it, like white and black.

Posted by: dee5 | March 18, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

zukermand-IF, the Shia Iranian Theocracy is somehow not able to work with Sunnis, as you are duped into thinking,

Explain their involvement with Hamas! The Taliban. The Taliban that worked with al-Qaida.

No, you will find they LOVE the saying;

"The Enemy of my Enemy, is my Friend"! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 18, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

The fact that the casualties and bombings are down has let Iraq slip off the radar. Rising uncertainty about the economy has replaced it as the fear du jour that elected officials are supposed to handle.

Now we can switch parties as to whom is peddling fear as a campaign tactic.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 18, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Just as soon as he's done saving the Shi'a from the Iranian al qaeda.

Posted by: zukermand | March 18, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Iraq War Based on lie to install puppet Government to aprove of the Iraqi Oil Law (Give Exxon Mobile free Access) and we are paying for it at the pump adn the cost of the war. what do you excopect Iraqis to do ?

Posted by: tqmek1 | March 18, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Iraq War Based on lie to install puppet Government to aprove of the Iraqi Oil Law (Give Exxon Mobile free Access) and we are paying for it at the pump adn the cost of the war. what do you excopect Iraqis to do ?

Posted by: tqmek1 | March 18, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

President McCain was "Taking care of Business", while the Dims were Playing, Fighting, and Lying about how much they were involved in bad behavior.

I personally wish McCain would hurry up and get Mitt Romney in as VP, so he can wrap up Negotiations with Colombia and Panama, as well as correct the US Economy! :-)

Posted by: rat-the | March 18, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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