McCain and Obama: Closer on Iraq than you might think

Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Barack Obama, the two leading major party candidates for present, are often presented as having dramatically different policies on Iraq. However, when one looks at the particulars of their positions, they aren’t that far apart.


In the 2008 presidential election, Democrats, progressives, and much of what constitutes the left in the United States are taking it for granted that the Democratic Party candidate for president will bring an end to the Iraq War. There are many reasons for this belief–the Republican candidate John McCain famously said that he would be fine with occupying Iraq for 100 years and has harsher rhetoric, the corporate media has generally failed to investigate the candidates’ positions on Iraq, and much of the left has rejected third party candidates that offer real alternatives on Iraq. Often times, when one criticizes the Democrats’ Iraq policies, it is not uncommon to hear that they deserve the support of antiwar voters because it is either “the Democrats” or “100 more years.”

However, if one looks closely at Senator John McCain’s position on Iraq and compares it to that of leading Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama, the differences really aren’t that great. To be sure, McCain has supported the Iraq War since the start and has been a vocal proponent of the war, while Obama has been more critical of the war. Despite this, their present policies are not that different. McCain’s much touted “100 years” comment has been used by the Democrats to campaign against him, but in a recent policy speech on Iraq, McCain set a goal of having most US soldiers out of Iraq by 2013. Earlier in the campaign, Senator Obama would not commit to having US soldiers out of Iraq by that date. Even now, Obama’s plan sets no deadline for the withdrawal of all US soldiers from Iraq, saying instead that he would withdraw “combat troops” within 16 months of being in office. Obama has never said what that means and has not detailed how many soldiers would remain in Iraq as part of a “strike force” capable of attacking al-Qaeda. Advisors to Obama have suggested that could mean having 60,000-80,000 US soldiers in Iraq in 2010. While McCain may keep a larger number of soldiers in Iraq slightly longer, the practical effect is the same–continued US occupation of the country. Moreover, neither McCain or Obama support removing private security contractors from Iraq.

There is further agreement between the candidates on “the Surge” or escalation of the war in early 2007. McCain’s website says that “sectarian and ethnic violence was reduced” due to “the Surge.” Similarly, Obama’s website says that “the Surge” has reduced violence–albeit not enough and with at a “great cost.” On “the Surge,” they split when it comes to evaluating the political successes of the policy, with McCain arguing that “the Surge” has resulted in some political progress with Iraqi leaders passing laws sought by the US, while Obama says that “Iraq’s political leaders have made no progress in resolving the political differences at the heart of their civil war.” Both agree that Iraq’s political leadership must take more “responsibility” for improving the situation in Iraq. They further call for increased international funding for Iraq’s reconstruction.

While there are many similarities in their Iraq policies, McCain and Obama do hold different positions on some issues. McCain rejects diplomacy with Syria and Iran, arguing that the international community needs to “apply real pressure” on the countries and that the United States needs to bolster its military presence in the region to further pressure Iran. By contrast, Obama would include the two countries in a larger regional diplomatic effort to address Iraq. Obama also mentions Iraq’s “humanitarian crisis,” something that is completely absent from McCain’s list of concerns about Iraq.

Overall, the Iraq policies of the two leading major party candidates are closer than what many people may believe. Neither McCain or Obama have a plan that will truly “end the war,” and both are noncommittal on when the United States occupation of Iraq would end. Similarly, they both support the continued use of private military contractors in Iraq. Despite this, conventional wisdom–in the media and among the left–is that the Democrats offer a policy that will end the war. Unfortunately, it’s just not true–there’s bipartisan support for the ongoing occupation.

Author: mediamouse

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