How a war with multi-syllabic names hurts Americans’ brains

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Inquirer columnist Dick Polman effectively sums up the two scenarios for how the war will affect the November election:

(1) Voters simply tune out the war. They have no patience to differentiate between Shiite factions or keep the names straight (see fourth paragraph). Being Americans, they prefer a clean fight with designated good guys and bad guys; denied that in Iraq, they wash their hands of the whole mess and go to the mall. They look at the candidates, and figure that maybe the one with the most military and foreign policy experience is best qualified to clean things up, whatever that means. Advantage, McCain.

(2) Voters lead busy lives and don’t have the time to figure out all the factions in Iraq. So they skip to the bottom line and instinctively recognize that nobody has yet to greet us with flowers, and that the constant ebb and flow of sectarian fighting, and the shellings of the supposedly safe Green Zone, are all signs of ongoing chaos that contradict long years of Bush booster rhetoric – and here is McCain saying the same stuff.  Advantage, Democrats.

Polman, for his part, also does an admirable job of trying to explain who the players are in the Iraqi “political” process – a process that seems to involve more intimidation and violence than your typical Philly war leader election.  The aforementioned 4th paragraph:

Our client in Iraq, the prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki – whose chief ally, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, runs the Islamic Supreme Council (a political party) as well as his own militia (the aforementioned Badr Organization) – last week put his fragile political capital at risk by seeking to crack down on his Shiite rival in Basra, the militia-backed cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Local elections are scheduled for Oct. 1 in Basra, where Sadr is popular. So, the way things work in this “young democracy,” Maliki made the decision to engage Sadr’s Mahdi Army in street battles – with military victory as his goal, thereby presumably ensuring political victory at the polls for Maliki’s allies in the Islamic Supreme Council and in his own Dawa party.

Polman, like many other commentators, makes the point that McCain’s policies in Iraq are very similar to President Bush’s.  Ultimately, the question will be whether the war is an issue at all, not on which side each candidate falls.  If the war is an issue, the positions are pretty clear.

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