A few weeks ago, President Obama announced that US forces would be leaving Iraq in accordance with the timeline that former President George W. Bush and the Iraqi Government signed. Somewhat surprisingly, Republicans running for President in 2012 were quick to criticise the move -- some candidates said that a pullout was hasty and cited a provision in the agreement that said US forces would leave only if conditions on the ground allowed them to, arguing that leaving now would empower Iran's influence on the country. But if Republicans were hoping to use the issue politically, it wasn't a very good move.
In fact, you might call it the worst political positioning in the young campaign season so far.
New numbers out from Gallup on Wednesday show that not only do three quarters of Americans agree with President Obama's plan to execute the Iraq withdrawl on time, but that 77 percent of self-described independents along with 96 percent of Democrats are for it. Only a slight majority of Republicans are against the move, 52 percent, but 43 percent are with Obama, making it one of most lopsided issues in public opinion at the moment.
Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all came out hard against a completion of the withdrawal plan, Romney calling it an "astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women."
Bachmann, while echoing that sentiment almost exactly, went on to say that we should have asked the Iraqis to pony up before leaving , saying the US "needed a working democratic partnership in Iraq and we should have demanded that Iraq repay the full cost of liberating them given their rich oil revenues."
Perry, in an attempt at political jujitsu, tried to caracterize the withdrawal decision as political itself, saying "I'm deeply concerned that President Obama is putting political expediency ahead of sound military and security judgment by announcing an end to troop level negotiations and a withdrawal from Iraq by year's end," in a statement. "The President was slow to engage the Iraqis and there's little evidence today's decision is based on advice from military commanders."
Of course, not only does Gallup show that Americans are incredibly supportive of sticking to the original timetable, but it's dangerous territory for Republicans anyway. Iraq was a seminal issue in the elections of 2004--2006, and despite being obscured by the financial collapse in 2008, it was still a major flashpoint in President Obama's election. It's simply terrible ground for the GOP politically, and pushing back against the end of year pullout only brings up the issue at a time when the candidates are becoming more known.
President Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year generally fits with Americans' wishes, if not those of many Republicans. Americans have been opposed to the Iraq war for many years. Since 2005, on average, a majority have said the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq.
The Iraq war had been one of the top issues in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, and Americans named it as the most important problem facing the country each month for nearly four years, from April 2004 to January 2008. Now, 1% of Americans name it as the most important problem. U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will thus end the debate on what has been one of the dominant policy issues in U.S. politics for the past eight years.
Of course, the debate will only be ended if the Republican candidates let it be. While coverage of the issue within the GOP race only lasted a few days, the more the conversation runs to this, it looks the more the potential Republican nominees can hurt themselves with independent voters.