Offense can help win elections, but with all the finger pointing on Iraq, is anyone even making sense? The debate on Sunday highlighted absolutely nothing about the war. Everyone opposes it; everyone blames everyone else for sending and keeping American soldiers in Iraq. And when the smoke clears, none of the frontrunners seem any more palatable discussing the war.

John Edwards came out firing at Clinton and Obama for voting to fund the war – charging a lack of leadership. Am I the only one confused as to why a pre-vote press conference is a necessary component of leadership? So the two senators voted quietly. Maybe that was a political blunder, but does it show a glaring character flaw? Most voters aren’t going to pull the trigger on this elusive ‘lack of leadership.’

Edwards is also continuing his political gamble of admitting a mistake in voting to originally authorize the use of force in Iraq. The risk: can he come of as genuine. If Edwards can seem genuinely reformed and likeable, this gamble pays off and he becomes a strong anti-war advocate. If the move is perceived as showmanship, Edwards comes off as cheap, boyish and not an anti-war bulwark. Being as Edwards is having trouble shedding his trial lawyer elitism, this gamble runs an especially high risk.

Obama defend his (and by association Clinton’s) vote to fund the war. He counter charged that he has always been against the war, and Edwards only recently recanted his authorization. While factually true, Obama doesn’t seem any more attractive by pushing someone else into the slop. Plus, with Edwards claiming he made a mistake, exactly how meaningful is the charge?

Then Obama makes the empty gesture of asking the others to not “play politics” with the war. Don’t forget, Obama uses the war on the campaign trail as much as the others. So what exactly is he wishing for? Iraq is the campaign issue of the present, a massive foreign policy question with huge domestic ramifications. It seems the war would be the most logical place focus political energy, in an age where the candidates and the media “play politics” with literally everything.

Then there is Hillary Clinton, doing her best impression of being above the fight. Her tactic: blame Bush. Exactly how much distance can she get from blaming the soon-to-be lame duck? Firstly, all the candidates and the Democratic voting base are already in agreement on Bush. Secondly, bashing Bush doesn’t exactly reassure those who are upset with Hillary for originally authorizing the war or continuing the fund it. Lastly, the ‘above the pack’ strategy would seem much more effective if Hillary could keep her own dirty laundry out of the press.

Oddly, the candidates with the most sensible tactics are those with the least strength. Kucinich is ready to blame congress (along with Bush of course) for the war, and is keeping his story simple in opposition to the war in any form. Biden took a stable stance defending his vote for funding as essential to protect the troops.

Its early, tactics will change, and perhaps a candidate will be able to come across as smart, strong and likeable on Iraq. But for now, the Democratic field is plain petty. As the front runners scramble to blame each other and/or Bush for our foreign policy shortcomings, they don’t seem very presidential. For now the campaigns are showcasing drama more than leadership. The opportunity seems great for someone to prove him or herself better than the rest, and no one stepped up.

See Michael Fields’ blog at www.fieldsforthought.blogspot.com  

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