By the second half of Rachel Maddow's interview with Barack Obama last night on MSNBC, the question Maddow kept avoiding became conspicious.
Surely the earnest MSNBC cable host would ask Obama something, anything about Iraq.
After all, Iraq is the main reason Obama became the Democrats' candidate for president and not Clinton, not Biden, Edwards or Kerry. They all voted for the war and later tried in vain to explain it away. Angry McGovernites who regained control of the party would have none of it and wasted little time anointing Obama presumptive nominee right out of the gate in Iowa.
Take Iraq out of the equation and Obama's just a freshman senator still summoning the nerve to ask McCain the time of day.
It was not until the latter part of Maddow's interview that the word "Iraq" was uttered, and by Obama. Even then, Obama's passing reference to Iraq came only in the context of what he thinks needs to be done in Afghanistan, where he hopes the US doesn't "duplicate" the presence of 150,000 troops as in, well, you know where.
MADDOW: But you don't think that having a larger military footprint interferes with our ability to do that stuff, to work with the Pakistani government?
OBAMA: Oh no. Look, I mean, we're part of a coalition force that right now is undermanned. I mean, we have, we, up until fairly recently, had one-quarter of the troops in Afghanistan that we had in Iraq. And so we're not looking to duplicate 150,000 troops in Afghanistan ...
MADDOW: That's good ...
OBAMA: ... But on the other hand, if we've only got 30,000 or 35,000 on a huge terrain and we're asking people to do a lot, I don't want a situation in which our troops continue to be under stop-loss or they are on the kinds of rotations that they've been under, or they don't have the basic support services that will allow them to consolidate any gains that they make. Right now it's just a little too scattershot an operation for them to secure and then build in these areas and that's something that I think we can improve on. But military power alone is not sufficient. It's necessary but not sufficient.
Iraq's absence from Maddow's questions becomes even more egregious when one considers how Maddow opens her Air America radio shows with a segment she calls "Life During Wartime." The segment consists of little more than a recitation of carnage, body counts and tales of woe in Iraq and Afghanistan, sprinkled with updates on ominous political developments that don't bode well for America.
Needless to say, the focus of "Life During Wartime" has shifted to Afghanistan as the situation in Iraq improves. For example, an avowed news junkie like Maddow may have run across an Associated Press story in Thursday's Boston Globe (all the more likely since she's a Bay State resident), about women in Baghdad now feeling safe enough to venture into public without traditional Islamic head cover.
The decision by some women to shun the hijab "is just one of the signs that Baghdad residents are growing increasingly confident in the past year's security gains," the AP reported. While much of Baghdad remains "a very dangerous place," overall attacks plunged to about 100 last month "compared with nearly 650 during September last year," the AP reported, citing the US military as its source.
Maddow's decision to avoid Iraq in the interview is also of a piece with her denial of reality about Iraq. In September, for example, Maddow falsely claimed that President Bush said no further US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq "at least until after he's no longer president any more." What Bush actually said was that 8,000 troops would return home by February 2009, not until then. Presumably the distinction is of keen interest to families of returning soldiers.
With Iraq inexplicably off the table, one might guess that Maddow wasn't going anywhere near the surge, that other skunk at the garden party. One would guess right -- Maddow never did.
Then again, why would she, seeing how Bill O'Reilly already extracted a belated, bregrudging admission from Obama of the surge "succeeding beyond our wildest dreams" (4:52 into the clip). To Maddow and like-minded cohorts, nothing distresses like successes in Iraq.
Watching Maddow's venture down the rabbit hole last night, I was reminded of the "All in the Family" episode when Edith Bunker let her shopping cart roll away, the cart hit a parked car and a can of cling peaches dented the hood.
In explaining what happened to Archie, Edith kept bringing up the cling peaches to avoid telling him about the accident. An exasperated Archie finally demands that Edith not say "cling peaches" again. Soldiering on, Edith instead says "hmm hmm" in lieu of mentioning the dreaded canned fruit. Maddow, usually so garrulous about Iraq's place in "Life During Wartime," couldn't even bring herself to hum the words when given a golden opportunity.
Not only did Maddow steer far from Iraq while schmoozing with Obama, the subject didn't up during two -- count 'em, two -- post-mortems she did of the interview with former CBS anchor Dan Rather and entertainment reporter Kent Jones.
Both were pleased as punch with Maddow's appropriate genuflection of Obama, Rather going so far as to dub it "remarkable in its own way."
Jones, however, risked bursting Maddow's balloon with an out-of-left-field query on whether there was a question Maddow regretted not asking Obama. Maddow, momentarily stunned by Jones' impertinence, regaining her composure and said --
I was going to ask him if there was a place for John McCain or Sarah Palin in his Cabinet, because he was like Mr. Bipartisanpants, um, and we did not get there. So maybe I'll send him an email with that as a follow-up, I guess.
Yes -- "Mr. Bipartisanpants." And yes, a follow-up question as might be asked by Aaron Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing." The series ended in 2006 with Democratic presidential nominee Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), a Latino congressman from Texas, asking his GOP opponent Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), a senior senator from the West, to serve as secretary of state after Santos won the election but lost running mate Leo McGarry (John Spencer) to a heart attack on election night.
Hey, you never know.
At one point Maddow referred to her "audience" with Obama, apparently confusing him with the Pope. This lofty language for what is more commonly known as "an interview" may help explain why Maddow did not bring up Iraq in Obama's rarefied presence. Such presumptuousness risked displeasing the pontiff.