Despite the vast unpopularity of the war in Iraq and McCain’s parroting of the Bush position, recent polling has the candidates even on who would do the better job of handling the war. This is because McCain is seen, by a very wide margin, as the best at being commander in chief.
So Obama has a dilemma. He gained initial traction in the primaries largely by outflanking Hillary on the war and showcasing his early opposition. But the more he speaks about the war now, the more he makes national security and foreign policy the major issue of the election. And there is no way that this can help him. In making his trip to the Middle East next week, Obama is gambling mightily. While each day’s photo opps will help him to burnish his credentials in this crucial respect, it will just make it too clear that McCain would be the better man to handle these situations. He may win the day, but McCain will win the topic.