There's a bit of an irony in this: Iraq is the issue that defines Barack Obama; more than any single factor, it propelled him to the Democratic nomination; his 2002 speech represents the intellectual quality that his supporters find most attractive: his capacity to see around corners. And yet: sixteen weeks before the election, after 16 months of campaigning, the man who is most identified with The Surge -- John McCain -- is just as trusted by Americans to figure out what to do about it.
Three options: my best guess is that partisan differences are reasserting themselves -- Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are coalescing around their nominee and his position. Or maybe this is a tribune to McCain's astonishing personal brand; or, the American people have moved on Iraq from 2006 and tend to accept the premise that The Surge is working.
Further complicating the public opinion landscape, Americans support Obama's assessment of the Iraq war and its origins and Obama's conclusion that "winning" in Iraq isn't necessary to win the "war against terrorism." But the country is split almost exactly in half when asked who they trust most to deal with Iraq and what solution they prefer.
From the Post:
Exactly half of those polled said they backed Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. But 49 percent sided with McCain's position opposing a specific timetable and letting events dictate when troops should be withdrawn. Among independents, the key voting block in November, 53 percent oppose Obama's timeline.
McCain passes the "commander in chief" test overwhelmingly -- 72% say he's credible in that role, compared to less than 48% for Obama -- including (only) 69% of Democrats.