Show and Tell

Posted: Jun 21, 2008 12:01 AM
Show and Tell

WASHINGTON -- Last Sunday, Sen. John McCain met in Washington with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. After their closed-door session, the two men took questions from waiting reporters. The following day, Sen. Barack Obama told reporters that he, too, had found time for a conversation with Zebari. The way in which the two events apparently took place and how they were reported reflect the profound differences between McCain and Obama.

The McCain-Zebari Father's Day meeting at the candidate's presidential campaign headquarters in Virginia showed that the two men know and respect each other, share a common perspective on success in Iraq, and are thinking realistically about the future. Both officials fielded tough questions from reporters about American troop levels, security, economic recovery, and ongoing negotiations for a U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement. Zebari observed, "Thanks to the surge strategy and to the growth of Iraqi military security capabilities, Iraq has the lowest level of violence since the last four years." He added that we "have the right policies, we have the right personnel now, and we are working together, in fact, to realize a democratic Iraq, a stable and peaceful Iraq, and to be a partner to the United States." The face-to-face meeting and the foreign minister's statement were all but ignored by the mainstream media.

By contrast, all it took was a perfunctory phone call with Iraq's leading diplomat for Sen. Barack Obama to make headlines. According to Obama, he phoned the foreign minister Monday morning while on his way from his home to Chicago's Midway Airport. Later, when the Democrats' standard-bearer landed in Flint, Mich., he told his press gaggle about the conversation with Zebari and said, "I told him that I look forward to seeing him in Baghdad." Then he announced, "I'm interested in visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election." The report that Obama would be making a trip to both theaters in the war against radical Islam led news broadcasts and made it above the fold in newspapers across the country.

Set aside the casual nature of Obama's contact with the Iraqi foreign minister and the fact that the Illinois senator has spent less than two full days on the ground in Iraq since the campaign in Mesopotamia began in March 2003. And ignore McCain's eight trips to the region and his role in constructing the successful surge strategy. What's really remarkable is how the Obama-for-president campaign has downplayed the promised trip to the war zones. And as usual, the press has let him get away with it.

At this writing, the campaign Web site makes no mention of a trip to Iraq. But under the headings "Barack Obama's Plan" and "Bringing Our Troops Home," it continues to stress that "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." That statement and the promised trip would be problematic for candidates getting more scrutiny than Obama has received. It might be called "show-and-tell trouble."

When our kids were in elementary school, they would have to bring something to school occasionally to show their classmates and then tell them all about it. That also meant the youngsters had to know real facts about the objects they were displaying. For a person with Obama's position on Iraq, a trip to the war zone would create a dilemma far greater than telling about a pet frog. It would be more like a pet skunk.

If Obama really does go to Iraq and listens carefully to the Americans and Iraqis who have been fighting and winning the campaign against al-Qaida and the Shiite militias, he will have to admit that McCain's surge strategy was right. He also would have to acknowledge that the campaign in Iraq is being won. And that, in turn, would require him to backtrack on the get-out-now plank of his foreign policy platform.

For most candidates, reversing course on a major campaign issue would be a significant problem. But Obama has proved that changing his mind (some would call it flip-flopping) is no obstacle to success. Just this week, he did an about-face on accepting federal funds for the general election. Though he has long insisted that public financing is essential to avoid becoming a pawn of special interests and lobbyists, Obama now claims that the public financing system is "broken." He's the first general election candidate to opt out of the system since it was established in 1976.

This change of heart hasn't hurt Barack Obama's standing with the media a bit. Count on him getting the same kind of free pass on an equally shameless show and tell in Iraq.