OBAMA IN IRAQ….Alexandra Zavis and Doug Smith report on Barack Obama’s trip to Iraq:

After Barack Obama met with Iraqi leaders here on Monday, the Iraqi government outlined a possible schedule for a U.S. troop withdrawal that is similar to the plan the Democratic presidential candidate has pledged to follow if he is elected.

Its announcement bolstered Obama’s credibility on a key foreign policy issue, early in a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe that was designed to reassure voters concerned he lacks the experience to be commander in chief.

It also gave him a boost in his debate with Republican presidential candidate John McCain over how to end the war in Iraq. McCain has repeatedly insisted that setting a firm withdrawal date ignores conditions on the ground and could prevent the U.S. from winning the war.

Zavis and Smith seem to be among the few reporters to really understand the impact of the past few days’ events. Last week McCain, by default, was the most credible of the two candidates on national security issues. Now Obama has visited Iraq and Afghanistan, talked to the commanders on the ground, talked to the head of the Iraqi government, and — to everyone’s surprise — received Nouri al-Maliki’s blessing. McCain’s got nothing left in his quiver now. Whether the foreign policy punditocracy likes it or not, Obama, in every practical sense of the word, is now the default national security candidate.