The Note: Barack's Iraq Stock

Is good news out of Iraq good news for Sen. Barack Obama? (Yes, and no.)

Is bad news out of Iraq good news for Barack Obama? (No, and yes.)

Can any news he picks up in Iraq change his position? (Yes, but not really.)

Is there anything Obama can do about any of this? (No, and probably still no.)

As Obama, D-Ill., attempts to hit restart on the Iraq debate with a speech in Washington Tuesday, it's useful to remember how tough this is to get right -- not just for him, but for any politician who's come into contact with the chaotic politics of the conflict.

The broad strokes may be painted in his direction, and he may yet turn his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan into a pure plus. But the early signs aren't encouraging -- drawing him criticism from the left and the right -- and thus the need for a new start.

As unpopular as the war is -- and as much as the Democrats have portrayed Sen. John McCain as a continuation of Bush-era policies -- voters say they are as likely to support McCain's plans Iraq plans as they do Obama's.

"Americans divide evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain's approaches to the war in Iraq, and rate McCain much more highly on his abilities as commander-in-chief -- key reasons the unpopular war isn't working more to Obama's advantage," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.

Obama's troop withdrawal plan is preferred by a bare 50-49 edge -- and here's one possible reason why: "Seventy-two percent of Americans -- even most Democrats -- say [McCain would] be a good commander-in-chief of the military," Langer writes. "By contrast, fewer than half, 48 percent, say Obama would be a good commander-in-chief, a significant weakness on this measure."

Check out the partisan split: "Sixty-nine percent of Democrats say he'd do well in this role; just 44 percent of independents and a mere 19 percent of Republicans agree," Langer writes.

"The poll results suggest that months of Democratic attacks on McCain's Iraq position have not dented voters' basic trust in his ability to lead the country's armed forces," Jonathan Weisman and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

New head-to-head poll, out of Quinnipiac University Tuesday morning, has it Obama 50, McCain 41 -- outside the margin of error, but not quite comfortably so.

That's a slice of the stakes when Obama speaks on foreign policy and national security at 10:45 am ET in Washington -- a "major address" for a major moment in a campaign that can't afford to see Iraq slip away as an underpinning of a candidacy.

From the excerpts: "This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe."

"In fact -- as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain -- the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was," Obama plans to say.

Obama's key point -- the one that cannot be muddled, whatever else is said: "As President, Senator Obama will consult with the generals on the ground on the tactics necessary to ensure the safe, responsible redeployment of American troops over 16 months," per his campaign.

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