There’s no doubt that the financial crisis, job insecurity, and fundamental economic worries are the No. 1 issue in Tuesday’s vote. But that raises a critical question: If Barack Obama is elected, will he have an antiwar mandate?
The answer isn’t clear.
In 2006, when Democrats reconquered the House and Senate, the election was widely seen as a referendum on the failing war in Iraq. Many Democrats, including those who had previously been supporters of the war, felt tremendous pressure from that public expression of antiwar sentiment, even if the Democratic majority in Congress was either unable either to block the so-called surge or to pass legislation halting the war. Their inability to do so was largely the result of President Bush’s veto powers and the Senate minority’s ability to filibuster defense spending bills and other measures.
If Obama wins, he will face enormous pressure to abandon his pledge to stop the war in Iraq. That pressure will come from some within his own circle of advisers, many of whom saw Obama’s antiwar stance as good politics but bad policy. It will come from hawkish Democrats outside Obama’s circle, from those elbowing their way to get in, typified by Richard Holbrooke, who found himself shut out of Obamaland after he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primaries. It may come from more hawkish Democrats close to Senator Biden, who voted for the Iraq war in 2002. It will certainly come from conservatives, neoconservatives, and the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. It will come from thinktanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Center for a New American Security, which have close ties both to Obama and to the Democratic establishment.
And most of all, the pressure on Obama will come from the US military and General Petraeus, who won’t look kindly on an incoming administration that wants to change course. Early in his administration, Obama is going to have to sit down, face to face, with Petraeus — a politically savvy general who, it is rumored, is thinking about running for office himself — and say something like this:
“General Petraeus, I value your service to our country. But under our system, I am the commander-in-chief. I’m the boss, not you. We’re getting out of Iraq, and we’re doing it quickly. I want a plan on my desk in 24 hours for the withdrawal of at least one to two brigades per month, and I want the withdrawal completed by the summer of 2010 at the latest. If we can do it more quickly, tell me. Anyone who doesn’t like this new policy, well, there’s the door.”