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.
Iraq's free, boisterous and critical press is another example of genuine change. Its existence is unarguable. It is there, alive and signaling the birth of liberty, which is also a huge victory in the Global War on Terror. It signals an emerging democracy in the predominantly Arab Muslim Middle East, an alternative to the terrible non-choice of tyrant or terrorist, the vicious ying-yang that has savaged the Arab heartland.
Astonishing news, isn't it, especially since three years ago Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared the war in Iraq was lost. Sen. Obama agreed. Moreover, this defeatist cant energized Obama's entire campaign. To disagree with Reid and Obama's hokum made one a liar or a rube in the overwhelmingly pro-Obama national media. Obama himself engaged in the name-calling. Recall he impugned rural Pennsylvanians when he told a bucks-up smorgasbord of San Francisco billionaires that his Keystone State opponents were benighted yokels who "cling to their guns and religion."
Obama knows what he said in 2007 and 2008. He knows he framed the war in Iraq as separate from the Global War on Terror, yet Iraq's emerging democracy is the biggest political and psychological defeat yet dealt to militant Islamist extremists. In February on CNN, Vice President Joe Biden touted Iraq's emerging success and wanted to claim it for the Obama administration.
This evident conflict between what he said then and what is now haunted Obama's Aug. 31 speech. He must know his withdrawal deadline was artificial -- his generals in Afghanistan are complaining about the one he has imposed in that War on Terror theater.
In his Aug. 31 speech, Obama pledged to "support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world." Nice words, describing goals that a reliable American ally could help the Iraqis achieve.
But apparently a substantial number of Iraqis don't believe his nice words. And with good reason.