Despite persistent violence and a critical election coming up, President Obama hardly ever mentions the war in Iraq - where more 110,000 U.S. troops remain - and leading American news outlets have drastically scaled back coverage of the conflict, moving on to domestic issues such as health care and the troubled economy.
In 2009, 149 American troops died in battle in Iraq - a higher loss rate than all but two of the 10 years U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan. But in 2010, Mr. Obama has mentioned the Iraq war just three times during formal speeches - twice in a single sentence during back-to-back events in early February for the Democratic National Committee and once in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address.
“We have begun to leave Iraq to its own people,” he said in his only line about the war during remarks at the Democratic National Committee meeting on Feb. 6.
The tenuous situation still facing U.S. forces in Iraq was underscored again Wednesday, when a string of suicide bomb attacks struck in quick succession in a former insurgent stronghold northeast of Baghdad, killing 32 people just days before a crucial election that will determine who will govern the country as American forces prepare to depart.
Mr. Obama has met privately at the White House with the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill and U.S. military commander in Iraq Gen. Raymond T. Odierno since the beginning of the year, but on neither occasion did the president make any public remarks.
The White House press corps hasn’t asked Mr. Obama about the Iraq war in months. The president was last asked about the conflict on Dec. 7, during an Oval Office press availability with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the question came from a Turkish reporter - after an Associated Press reporter asked about the economy.
In fact, the last time a White House reporter asked about the Iraq war was June 26, when National Public Radio’s Don Gonyea asked an Iraq-related question during a joint news conference of Mr. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to records kept by CBS Radio reporter Mark Knoller.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has taken the “point” on Iraq.
“The president is very closely monitoring ongoing efforts, both military and political, in Iraq. So much so that he asked Vice President Biden to run point on the issue. … I’d encourage you to e-mail the vice president’s team, as they can provide you a pretty fulsome accounting of our efforts,” Mr. Vietor said.
Meanwhile, the three main broadcast networks - ABC, NBC and CBS - have moved on to other topics as well.
In 2008, the Iraq war was the seventh most heavily covered story, with the three networks devoting 288 minutes to reports about the war, according to the Tyndall Report, which monitors the weekday nightly newscasts of the networks. In 2009, the Iraq war dropped off the top 10 list, with just 80 minutes of coverage.
The New York Times wrote 374 “substantial” stories on Iraq in 2008 (meaning the word “Iraq” appears at least 10 times in article), according to the Nexis database. In 2009, that dropped to 208. The same went for The Washington Post - 422 “substantial” stories on Iraq in 2008; 169 in 2009, after Mr. Obama had taken office.
The reason for the dramatic downturn is simple, said John Pike, an analyst on defense and intelligence policy and director of GlobalSecurity.org.
“Of course [President Obama] is not going to mention it. What’s he going to say? There’s not much political incentive for Mr. Obama to talk about it. They may be starting a big drawdown after the [Iraqi] elections, but Lord, here we are a year and change after the inauguration and the troop levels today are about the same as they’ve been off and on for the last six years,” Mr. Pike said.