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Hold The Whips

David A. Bell is a contrubiting editor at The New Republic and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University:

John Judis's analysis of the Obama campaign's problems is keen, as always. But it indulges too much in the Democratic Party's well-known penchant for self-flagellation. Yes, the campaign has made mistakes, but if we ask why Obama has not established a commanding lead over John McCain, perhaps the key reason is something beyond his control: Iraq (a word that doesn't even appear in Judis's piece).

Let's not forget how much of Obama's success to date has been due to his stance on the war. It brought him many of his most enthusiastic young supporters, and gave him a crucial stick with which to beat Hillary Clinton during the campaign. More generally, the war created the sense of crisis and despair which led so many Democrats to yearn for a savior figure. With the reduction in violence and American casualties which has followed the surge, Iraq is simply not playing anything like the role it did a year ago. (If the reduction had begun a few months earlier, I suspect that tonight Hillary Clinton would be accepting the nomination.)

The success of the surge, good news as it is, does not make up for the disastrous failure of the war as a whole, and Obama can still criticize the Republicans for that failure. But his words will simply not have the same resonance now that, thankfully, the profligate waste of American lives has been so greatly reduced. Now, as Judis says, "what Obama has to do above all is find a way to focus on the economy." But this will not be easy, and will take time, for a candidate whose rise was so closely linked to a very different crisis.

--David A. Bell