Obama Shifts Focus of Iraq War Talk

March 20, 2008

In his speech today Obama shifted his focus from race to a perspective on the Iraq War that ought to resonate in the presidential election. This speech, perhaps given while his speeches were the topic of the day and very much in the news, was very timely. Yesterday’s speech on race was widely heralded as groundbreaking in the open treatment of its subject matter and presidential in its presentation. While he had center stage he chose to give a speech that could very well be a presidential campaign theme.

There has been a great deal of comment how, while war issues may drastically influence opinion polls most of the time, come the presidential election, its the economy. Separating out the concerns of the economy from the popular success of Desert Storm, was key to Bill Clinton’s victory over Bush, the elder. For years now the primary factor in Bush, the younger’s, phenomenally low popularity ratings have been dissatisfaction with the war. The war though has not been the primary consideration in the nomination process, nor is it likely to be a huge factor in the election in the fall. Economic disasters, the recession, the threat of inflation and “stagflation,” are more likely to be critical to the swing voters.

Obama’s speech leverages the unpopularity of the war by discussing it in the context of the economy. At the same time ending the war is presented as a counter to the age-worn accusation that Democrats only “tax and spend,” although a comparison of the Bill Clinton administration with the George W. Bush administration makes this old argument pretty much untenable.

This war which we were told would cost around 60 billion dollars, including the cost of setting up the new regime and stabilizing the country, has now exceeded ten times. The General Accounting Office estimates that the cost will end up between one and two trillion dollars; others estimate somewhere around three trillion dollars. A significant portion of this money comes from credit which will create a heavy burden on the country in coming years.

Obama discussed the effect of the war on our economy and itemized what that money could have been used for instead of going to war contractors. Before today there had been mention of this but the war has been mostly cast and a bad decision, a waste of life, bad foreign policy, and a bad vote by Hillary. This emphasis on the economic impact of the war during a recession in a campaign against someone who estimates the length of the conflict as 100 years ought to be heard by the people in Kansas.