DALLAS Many Americans seem to have forgotten
the Iraq war in this election cycle. Joe Luccioni is not one of
"You can't forget them," he told Reuters as he waited with
other volunteers who come to the Dallas Fort Worth
International Airport to greet soldiers returning from Iraq and
Luccioni, a fit-looking retiree who served in the Army from
1959 to 1963, is an exception these days.
As Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama enter
the home stretch in their race to the Nov. 4 presidential
election, the war in Iraq seems to have faded from view.
Analysts say this is explained by three main factors: the
riveting of public attention on the battered economy and
plunging markets, the decline in violence in Iraq, and a
narrowing of the candidates' differences on the war.
Opinion polls consistently show the unpopular war to be
below the worsening economy, energy issues and health care on
the list of voter concerns, though it still tends to trump
hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
"It's not a big consideration right now for most voters,"
said Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center.
Even those directly affected by the war can see why it is
hard to focus the public's attention on it.
"It's because things like the economy have hit ... the most
recent topic is going to be the topic," said 33-year-old Clint
Hendryx as he waited, roses in hand, for his wife Cari, an army
x-ray technician returning from a six-month tour of Iraq.
Analysts say the Iraq war being pushed down on the list of
voter concerns benefits Obama because national security is one
of the trump cards for McCain, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran
and former prisoner of war.
Most polls show Obama with a small but growing lead as the
economic news goes from bad to worse.
"Violence against civilians and attacks against U.S. troops
are down. This has taken the war off the front pages and moved
the election away from McCain's strong suit," said David
Epstein, a political scientist at Columbia University.
Violence in Iraq has fallen to around four-year lows in
recent months though militants still have been capable of
large-scale attacks. Close to 4,200 U.S. soldiers have been
killed in Iraq and surrounding areas since the American-led
invasion in 2003.
Many analysts attribute the falling levels of violence at
least partly to the "surge," a steady build-up in U.S. forces
It is a policy that McCain backed from the start -- and he
frequently hits Obama for what he says is his refusal to
acknowledge its success. But the improvements have knocked the
conflict off the headlines and the electorate's radar screen.
"The (surge) policy for McCain is a victim of its own
success," Epstein said.
It is an unexpected turn of political events in an election
cycle that has been full of surprises. The war was a huge issue
in the 2006 mid-terms when the Democrats wrested control of
both houses of Congress from the Republicans.
"Obama a year ago thought the war was a big winning issue
for him but then when the surge appeared to be working, McCain
thought it would be a successful issue for him," said Matthew
Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University
Wilson added that "both candidates are on the same page
now. Both of them are looking to a gradual withdrawal over the
next couple of years. When they argue it is retrospective. They
are past tense arguments over previous judgments," he said.
Obama has said he would withdraw U.S. troops within 16
months of taking office in January 2009 while McCain has said
promises of a quick withdrawal are "reckless." But he has also
seen room for reductions.
During the second presidential debate on Tuesday, the two
men again clashed over previous positions on the war -- McCain
backed it from the start while Obama, an Illinois state senator
when it began in 2003, opposed it from the first day.
But much of the debate on the future of foreign policy
focused on Pakistan, Iran and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
Back at the Dallas airport -- where several hand-made
posters say "God Bless America" and "Welcome Home Troops" in
the terminal where the soldiers arrive regularly -- Luccioni
says he is sure McCain has not forgotten the troops. But he is
distrustful of Obama on the issue.
"Obama really wants to forget them, but McCain hasn't," he
said shortly before he began shaking the hands of soldiers
returning in their camouflage fatigues.
"When the guys came back from Vietnam, they didn't get
this. They got spat on," he said.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)