Barack Obama is considering making another trip to Iraq, his first since he last visited in January 2006. This comes after days of hectoring from John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate even offering to go to Iraq with Obama and spend the flight over tutoring him on the new realities there.
Why hasn't Obama gone to Iraq in almost two years? Well, reason one is probably the endless campaign he has been waging to secure the Democrat nomination for president, and despite his apparent lead and likely victory, he has had a substantial struggle with Hillary Clinton. In sum: He's been busy. And that is likely an understandable and reasonable explanation for his absence from Iraq.
But now he's been cornered by McCain and his choices are not good. If after "consideration" he decides not to go, he will be dogged continuously about why he criticizes and condemns the situation in Iraq when he won't go see it for himself.
If on the other hand he does go, he is very likely to see firsthand what a wide array of commentators have called success in Iraq: A much improved security situation, normal life returning to Iraqi streets, the impending and total defeat of Al Qaeda (an AQ Web site recently posted an essay titled "How We Lost in Iraq"), and the determination of the prime minister to stamp out sectarian violence with massive numbers of Iraqi troops.
All recent press reports indicate this is what Obama will see if he visits Iraq.
So what he does he do then?
Having recently declared the war "endless," having cultivated a cultish following by attacking the war as wrong in its inception and failed in its execution, how can he come back to the U.S. and tell his mesmerized followers that 1) we're winning the war, and 2) he will see to it that we finish it successfully?
If he were to return home and say we are still losing and it is still an "endless" war, he might well be alone in that opinion or among an extremely small group of eyewitnesses. He will need to say something along those lines to keep his following among Democrats and war-weary former war supporters, but he will also be open to withering criticism from those who have seen Iraq progress and won't hesitate to call him out.
If he avails himself of the second choice and declares the war progress to be good and American troops are succeeding in the surge and the overall pacifying of Iraq, what will be the reaction of his core supporters on the left? One can hardly imagine they will be pleased.
There are more nuanced approaches he might take should he make the trip. He could return and say American troops have succeeded in training Iraqis and the Iraqis are performing well so it is time to bring our troops home and let them handle the job themselves.
But if President Obama follows that course, brings the troops home and then Iraqi forces are overwhelmed for a lack of American support, he will be blamed directly for losing the war.
Obama is in an Iraq jam and there doesn't appear to be an easy way out. McCain can jab him constantly about not going to Iraq and that will hurt. He can take up McCain's challenge and then try to figure out a way to say we're winning but losing at the same time. Or he can come up with another extremely nuanced and strained position on Iraq that as of yet hasn't made itself clear to anybody else.
What should Obama do? Call the "John Gibson Radio Show" starting at 6 p.m. ET. Find it at XM 168 or Sirius 145 or go to www.gibsonradio.com.