According to recent public opinion polling data, U.S. President Barack Obama is a highly controversial and divisive political figure -- public opinion polling data from Iraq, that is.
In a poll conducted by Asharq Research Centre, a private Iraqi polling company, 42 percent of Iraqis said they don't think President Obama cares about Iraq. Sixty percent of the respondents claimed "it was the wrong time for a major withdrawal of U.S. combat troops."
The results indicate a number of Iraqis distrust Obama's judgment. That's definitely a negative for the president and his administration. The poll's very existence, however, makes a dramatically positive statement about change in Iraq -- change that ought to encourage American policymakers who campaigned on hope and change. Except Iraq's great change traps Obama in an uncomfortable psychological and political vise. Hence his speech of Aug. 31, when he claimed America's combat role in Iraq had ended, was the speech of a conflicted man who knows he's caught but hopes you're too stupid to notice.
The poll itself is unquestionably a positive indication. Pollsters are asking the Iraqi people for their opinion. Moreover, they give it, because they are free to do so. They no longer face prison and torture -- or murder -- if they sound-off. Prior April 2003, when the American-led invasion toppled Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, prison and death were the price of a contrary opinion. Why? The Iraqi government has changed -- radically.
Over the last two years, the Iraqi press has expressed deep concern about Obama's commitment to supporting their emerging democracy and thwarting Iranian troublemaking. A column that appeared in the May 16 edition of the respected Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat offers an example: "The U.S. believes that it will be able to deal with whoever wins and becomes the new leader of Iraq. However, a second opinion of the situation is that the Obama administration wants to escape from Iraq, and does not want to get involved, and the only thing it is concerned with is the scheduled troop withdrawal that is set to begin this summer. This would be an appropriate position if there was a possibility for escape!"
The column provides a rather discomfiting analysis of Obama and suggests the free world's leader suffers from a flaw that could prove fatal for all of his international and domestic policies: He addresses complex problems in an artificial manner, framing them not based on facts but for his ideological and political convenience.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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