- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

The antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan headed to Martha’s Vineyard this week, where President Obama is vacationing. Once again she is protesting our two wars abroad.

But Ms. Sheehan is a media has-been. ABC’s Charlie Gibson used to cover her anti-Bush rallies in Crawford, Texas. Now he says, with a sigh, of her recent anti-Obama efforts, “Enough already.”

The war in Iraq is scarcely in the news any longer, though 141,000 American soldiers are still protecting the fragile Iraqi democracy, and 114, as of this writing, have been lost this year in that effort.

But after the success of the surge, there are far fewer American fatalities each month — eight in July, five in August. Former antiwar candidate Barack Obama is also now President and Commander in Chief Obama — with Democratic majorities in the Congress.

Public opinion and media attention about Iraq were always based largely on two factors that transcended whether Americans felt the removal of Saddam Hussein was wise and necessary — or misguided and wrong.

First was the perception of costs to benefits. In May 2003, after a quick, successful American invasion, a Gallup poll revealed that 79 percent of the public supported the war — despite our not finding weapons of mass destruction. But by December 2008 — more than 4,000 American fatalities later and at the end of the Bush presidency — only 34 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, still felt the war had been worth the effort.

Second was how the changing public mood affected politics. In October 2002, the Republican-controlled House and Senate, with plenty of Democratic support, voted overwhelming to authorize the Iraq war. Congress cited 23 reasons why we should remove Saddam Hussein. The majority of these authorizations had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.

Yet as the subsequent occupation became messy and costly, prior Democratic support evaporated. In both the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, running against what was now George Bush’s war was seen as wise Democratic politics.

From all that, we can draw more conclusions about the present media silence and absence of public protests over the Iraq war. As long as Mr. Obama is commander in chief, and as long as casualties in Iraq are down, there will be no large public protests or much news about our sizable Iraq presence. The cost and the attendant politics — not why we went there — always determined how the Iraq war was covered.

Afghanistan is more complicated. So far this year — for the first time since our 2001 removal of the Taliban from power — more Americans have been killed there (172) than in Iraq (114). The Obama administration recently sent more troops into Afghanistan to reach our highest level yet at 32,000.

Yet so far there have been none of the public protests that we used to see in connection with Iraq. Why?

Over the last few years, we have become used to the idea that Afghanistan was “quiet.” Indeed fewer were killed there in most years than in some of the bloodiest single months in Iraq.

Democrats also ran on the notion of Afghanistan as the “good war.” It was the direct payback for the Taliban’s involvement with Osama bin Laden. It garnered United Nations support. And it had been neglected by Iraq-obsessed, neoconservative Mr. Bush.

Many antiwar candidates also thought the “good” Afghan war was largely over, while the “bad” Iraq one was hopeless — already “lost” in the words of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

In addition, Afghanistan — landlocked, backward, with a harsh climate and little natural wealth — was always the harder challenge for fostering constitutional government. Iraq has ports, a central location, oil riches, flat and open terrain, and an educated populace.

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