News / USA

    Iraq Casts Giant Political Shadow

    President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
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    President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
    President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
    It’s long been said that the shadow of Iraq will follow the presidency of George W. Bush into history.  Now it appears the same could be looming for President Barack Obama.
     
    Iraq continues to consume official Washington at the moment and already it seems we are in the early stages of a ‘Who Lost Iraq’ debate, with Republicans and Democrats pointing fingers at each other.
     
    President Barack Obama has announced steps to secure the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, send in up to 300 U.S. military trainers to help Iraqi government forces and called on the Iraqi government to undertake reforms and become more inclusive.
     
    The president also noted that there has been a resurgence of the divisive political debate over Iraq in the U.S. and said his administration will continue to ask “hard questions” in advance of any consideration about future U.S. military involvement in Iraq.  Mr. Obama made clear that U.S. ground forces will not be sent back into battle.  He told reporters at the White House, “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.  Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis."
     
    Weakening Poll Numbers
     
    The Iraq crisis comes as a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found President Obama’s approval rating on a sharply negative trajectory.  41 percent approve of the president’s job performance, tying a previous low.  On foreign policy, the poll found support at a new low for the president, down to 37 percent.  Foreign policy has been one of the president’s political strengths, especially after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.  But in recent months the administration has been forced to deal with a long list of overseas challenges including Ukraine, Syria and the wind-down of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.
     
    Polls show declining public confidence in the administration’s foreign policy in general and Republicans have been quick to go on the attack, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner.  “You look at this presidency and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.”
     
    Former Vice President Dick Cheney also weighed in, ratcheting up the political heat.  Cheney and his daughter Liz argued in the Wall Street Journal that President Obama’s foreign policy has weakened the U.S. and emboldened America’s enemies, especially in dealing with Iraq and a renewed threat from al-Qaida.  The Cheney’s wrote: “Rarely has a president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”
     
    Unexpectedly, the Cheney’s were grilled about that comment on the Fox News Channel, usually a friendly haven for conservatives.  Many Democrats have also spoken out against the former vice president and his role in advocating the U.S. of invasion of Iraq back in 2003.
     
    On the Defensive
     
    On one hand, the Obama administration correctly cites polls that Americans are not interested in another war in the Middle East right now.  But the low 37 percent approval rating for the president’s handling of foreign policy also suggests Americans would like to see something done, not only on Iraq but in dealing with the situation in Ukraine and with a resurgent Russia.  Several foreign policy analysts argue that many Americans are sick of paying the price for lengthy overseas wars but also hate to see their role as the world’s pre-eminent power in decline.
     
    One key question for the Obama administration moving forward on Iraq is what exactly will U.S. voters support?  More military trainers?  Limited air strikes?  Increased help for the Iraqi government?  In a post-9-11 world these questions are not easily answered.  President Obama knows this all too well.  He ran for the presidency in 2008 in part to change U.S. outreach to the world in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 in no small part because he was able to draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton, who supported the Iraq war while a senator from New York.
     
    Impact on Clinton
     
    The Iraq crisis flared just as Hillary Clinton began her much anticipated book tour to promote “Hard Choices”, the memoir of her tenure as Mr. Obama’s secretary of State during his first term.  In the book, Clinton says she now sees her vote in favor of the Iraq war as a mistake.  She writes:  “I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong.  But I still got it wrong.  Plain and simple.”  Obviously if Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, she hopes anti-war activists within the Democratic Party will finally forgive her for that vote.
     
    In her book, Clinton also seeks to remind readers of the challenges the administration faced in the early days of Mr. Obama’s time in office, when the focus was a complete overhaul of how the U.S. interacted with the rest of the world.  Clinton says she won’t decide on a presidential run until next year, but if she does, Clinton supporters say the book will serve as a nifty reminder of her transformation from domestic political figure to world celebrity and now a clear frontrunner not only for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016 but for the White House as well.
     
    But a lot of things can happen between now and then, assuming Clinton decides to become a candidate.  Already there have been a few rocky moments during the Hillary book tour.  She had to walk back some comments about how she and former President Bill Clinton were “dead broke” after they left the White House early in 2001, largely because of huge legal bills.  She also got into a testy debate with a show host on National Public Radio about how and why she came to support same sex marriage.
     
    Clinton was riding high in the polls ever since she left the State Department in early 2013, giving a series of paid speeches and engaging in the occasional Q+A with audiences.  But in launching the book tour she re-entered the political spotlight and that means less control over questions from the media and infinitely more opportunities to chat about issues she hasn’t had to address publicly in a long time.
     
    The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll contains mixed news for Clinton should she decide to seek the presidency two years from now.  55 percent of those surveyed agreed with the notion that she is “knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency.”  Other recent polls show Clinton to be a huge favorite for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, far outpacing Vice President Joe Biden and a few other Democrats who are less well-known around the country.
     
    But on the flip side, the latest Journal-NBC poll found that only 38 percent rate her highly for “being honest and straightforward.”  37 percent said there was no chance they would vote for her for president in 2016.
     
    It’s still way too early to know how Clinton might fare if she makes a presidential bid.  And it’s foolish to predict now what issues will drive the debate in late 2015 and early 2016 when the presidential campaign gets underway.  But it is likely that we will hear more from Republicans about the Obama administration’s foreign policy in general and its handling of Iraq in particular, with even scrutiny of Hillary Clinton’s stewardship of U.S. foreign policy during the president’s first term.

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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    by: Not Again from: Canada
    June 22, 2014 10:57 AM
    Once again we see a tremendous level of outright deliberate memory loss, on the part of the quite a few, by somehow trying to put the blame of all the ills on the planet on Pres Obama. Such an approach doees not stand to the facts, or reason, and it is very biased.
    It is quite clear, in my opinion, that negative campaigns, against Pres Obama, are deliberately fabricated to have his opponents better their standings wrt the upcoming elections and not be routed by Democracts. The unfortunate part is that negative campaigns do appear to work, especially when you do not have a well informed electorate, and some are not willing to be fair minded, and they are biased against the administration, no matter what the administration does.
    Each one of the negative issues, on/in foreign policy, that the current administration faces, are issues that his Republican predecessors worked on for years, to no avail or progress, at a tremendous cost of US/Allied human lives and treasury expenditures. Notwithstanding the massive resource expenditures, not only did Pres Obama's predessesors failed to correct the problems, but in fact they greately agravated the outcomes. And now, many of the same politicians/strategists are trying to push the current administration into the continuation of the same policies/strategies, that agravated the situation and failed to produce sustainable positive results.
    Most of the conflicts observed, are civil wars. Civil wars have as a minimum at least four components: multi-ethnic/religeous state with one ethnic group in-charge; an underlying negative economic component; a failing security component; and a political component. The security component can be temporarily resolved by the application of external force, as it was done by previous Republican administtrations. The political component must be resolved by the conflicted parties, by equitably sharring power; and the same applies to the economic component, by equitably sharring the wealth of the country.
    The application of force by external or even internal forces, in a civil war, is a bandaid temporary solution, but not an end state solution. In most cases, multi-ethnic states do not survive crisis situations, other than by massive oppresion, which is not sustainable for many decades in any case. Past US/Allied administrations applied massive forces to Iraq, and they did partially stabilize the country, but failed to resolve the underlying political/ economic issues, it was not theirs to resolve. If the political leaders of Iraq are not willing to resolve their political/economic issues, more application of force, by the US/Allies will also not work now, any better than under the Rep[ublican administration. The Obama administration's approach to the Iraq civil war is proper, upfront power sharrring need; unfortunately the previous administrations agravated the situation so far, that it may not be recoverable.
    Much the same applies to many of the other civil war types of conflicts we see around the globe. Their root cause was the legacy of the dastardly un-natural imperial borders, created to split/weaken various ethnic groups, so that the empires could control them; thus the tendency for these countries to fracture. AND NONE OF IT IS OBAMA'S, or the Democrats, or even the US' FAULT, no more than if a volcano goes off in a far away place! Many of these countries need to fracture, as we saw in the Balkans, and now we are starting to see positive results.

    by: Mr George from: Georgetown
    June 22, 2014 1:34 AM
    Has this been written by a high school sophomore? I've seen college admission essays with a better grasp of sentence construction and narrative flow. US tax dollars actually subsidize this crap? What a joke.

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