Washington, July 15 : A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the country split down the middle between Barack Obama's 16-month timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and those agreeing with Sen. John McCain's position that events, not timetables, should dictate when forces come home.
Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, will deliver what his campaign is billing as a "major address" on Iraq today in Washington, part of an effort to convince voters that he could serve effectively as commander in chief.
The public is also evenly divided on that question, with 48 percent saying he would be an effective leader of the military and 48 percent saying he would not.
On Iraq policy in general, Americans continue to side with Obama and McCain, his Republican rival, in roughly equal numbers, with 47 percent of those polled saying they trust McCain more to handle the war, and 45 percent having more faith in Obama.
The poll results suggest that months of Democratic attacks on McCain's Iraq position have not dented voters' basic trust in his ability to lead the country's armed forces: Seventy-two percent said McCain would make a good commander in chief.
"The most important number by Election Day is whether a majority of the electorate has achieved a comfort level with Obama as commander in chief," said Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster who was a strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, and who considers Obama's 48 percent a strong starting position.
David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, said of the candidate's standing: "This is not a particularly new or unusual finding. People believe the war was a mistake. They believe we should leave. And they want it done in a deliberate, thoughtful way."
Ahead of today's speech and a planned trip to Iraq, Obama penned an opinion article in yesterday's New York Times, saying that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's call last week for a withdrawal timetable is an opportunity the United States must embrace.
"Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis' taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country," Obama wrote, pledging that he would stick to his plan to begin the withdrawal of one to two combat brigades per month upon taking office.