The Iraq War was one of the major issues facing candidates during the 2008 presidential election cycle.
Then-Senator Barack Obama viewed the war as misguided, an unnecessarily deadly involvement that did little to target the U.S.’s true enemy, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. Senator John McCain had supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq as well as the 2007 troop surge, but remained a critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the war.
Obama’s victory in that election was accompanied by hopes that the U.S.’s role in Iraq may end, a goal he seemingly achieved with the full withdrawal of troops in 2011.
In 2016, however, the war in Iraq may again be a pivotal issue for presidential hopefuls. ISIS has thrust Iraq into yet another civil war, with violent advances by the extremist group drawing nearer to Baghdad.
Thus far, the Obama administration’s response has been limited. The commander-in-chief authorized airstrikes against strategic targets, but has yet to deploy troops to the ground.
McCain once again is spearheading efforts for an increased combat role in Iraq. After Obama delivered a speech explaining the U.S. airstrikes would be intended to contain ISIS forces, McCain responded by saying, “You don’t contain those people, they’re a virus.” McCain has also opposed putting American combat forces on the ground in Iraq, but has still advocated for an increased military campaign in the region.
If Hillary Clinton makes a run for the nation’s highest office — and all signs indicate that she will — she will be forced to defend her positions on foreign policy in the Middle East executed during her stint as Secretary of State for the Obama administration. Sen. Rand Paul, another potential candidate, called Clinton “a war hawk” that threatens to get the U.S. involved in another costly and deadly war. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a longshot on the Democratic side, has supported President Obama’s decision to utilize limited airstrikes in Iraq.
Other possible candidates such as Ted Cruz have been noticeably apathetic when discussing the issue — likely in an effort to avoid any future backlash on the campaign circuit.
Regardless of how Obama handles the growing threat of ISIS throughout the remainder of his term in office, politicians are aware that any comment on the issue could retrospectively be as costly as an unpopular vote once election season comes around.
McCain’s involvement in the Iraq war — and the American public’s displeasure with that conflict — may have lost him the election. Obama’s outlook on the war going into office is certainly influencing his limited authorization of combat thus far. Despite the decisions and efforts of all those in office, terrorism remains a threat internationally, and the U.S. was unsuccessful in their attempt to build a stable democracy in Iraq. The saddest part of all is that, to the American voting population, it’s almost as if nothing has changed.