Tag Archives: The Center

Maliki Backs Off?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office is backing off his endorsement of Barack Obama’s Iraq timeline yesterday.

Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, issued a statement saying Mr. Maliki’s statement had been “as not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq,” but it did not address a specific error. It did soften his support for Mr. Obama’s plan and implied a more tentative approach to withdrawing troops. More of the statement, which came from the U.S. military’s Central Command press office:

Al-Dabbagh explained that Mr. al-Maliki confirmed the existence of an Iraqi vision stems from the reality with regard to Iraq security needs, as the positive developments of the security situation and the improvement witnessed in Iraqi cities makes the subject of U.S. forces’ withdrawal within prospects, horizons and timetables agreed upon and in the light of the continuing positive developments on the ground, and security that came within the Strategic Plan for Cooperation which was laid and developed by Mr. Maliki and President George Bush. The Iraqi government appreciates and values the efforts of all the friends who continue to support and supporting Iraqi security forces.

Al-Dabbagh underscored that the statements made by the head of the ministerial council (Prime Minister al-Maliki) or any of the members of the Iraqi government should not be understood as support to any U.S. presidential candidates.

As Matt Yglesias notes, this is hardly convincing

You can read the full statement at the link, but this summary really tells you what you need to know, namely that the walkback (a) doesn’t involve Maliki on the record, (b) says the reports are inaccurate but doesn’t name inaccuracies, and (c) was issued through CENTCOM. Basically, this morning we saw Maliki speaking in person and endorsing Obama’s plan to end the occupation in no uncertain terms. By the late afternoon, an Iraqi government spokesman was pretending this never happened in a statement released by the occupying army. That’s hardly even a serious effort at bamboozlement.

Also, unsurprisingly, der Spiegel stands by their interview and its translation. Plus, it is awfully hard to believe that Maliki didn’t mean what he said about Obama given that elsewhere in the same interview he said

SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany. How do you feel about this model?

Maliki: Iraq can learn from Germany’s experiences, but the situation is not truly comparable. Back then Germany waged a war that changed the world. Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops — and it should be short. At the same time, we would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations. However, I wish to re-emphasize that our security agreement should remain in effect in the short term.

That sounds a lot like Obama, and nothing like McCain. Let’s see, what else did Maliki have to say?

SPIEGEL: How short-term? Are you hoping for a new agreement before the end of the Bush administration?

Maliki: So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn’t the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias. The American lead negotiators realize this now, and that’s why I expect to see an agreement taking shape even before the end of President Bush’s term in office. With these negotiations, we will start the whole thing over again, on a clearer, better basis, because the first proposals were unacceptable to us.

Hmmm…Again, doesn’t sound much like McCain.

Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that’s where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.

Granted, that was after being asked if he was endorsing Obama, but again, that does not sound like McCain. Plus, the fact that al-Maliki didn’t immediately back off his endorsement of Obama’s policy, and in fact reiterated his support for a quicker withdrawal, makes it hard to believe that Maliki really was misquoted.

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Maliki Embraces Obama

“U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

John McCain is suddenly is a very tough position. In the campaign thus far he has taken two positions on Iraq. One, that a timeline such as that proposed by Barack Obama would be “setting a date certain for surrender,” and secondly, that if the Iraqi’s ask us to leave we will. Now, McCain is in the impossible position of having to either admit that he envisions the US in Iraq as a long-term, imperial force, staying on in defiance of the local population and sovereign government of Iraq, or embracing the withdrawal timeline that Obama layed out 18 months ago, at the beginning of the campaign, a postion that McCain has characterized as “wanting to lose.”

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Not a Timeline, but Sounding a lot like Obama

TUCSON, July 18 — President Bush and Iraq’s prime minister have agreed to set a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as security conditions in the war-ravaged nation continue to improve, White House officials said here Friday.

The agreement, reached during a video conference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks a dramatic shift for the Bush administration, which for years has condemned any talk of timetables for withdrawal.

But Maliki and other Iraqi leaders in recent weeks have begun demanding firm withdrawal deadlines from the United States. Bush said earlier this week that he opposes “arbitrary” timetables but was open to setting an “aspirational goal” for moving U.S. troops to a support role.

So, a “time horizon” is apparently different than a timeline, but this sounds an awful lot more like Obama’s Iraq policy than McCain’s. In reality, this sure seems like it is being driven by Maliki, who realizes that his constituents really would like the US to leave sooner rather than later, as opposed to Bush, who has always vociferously opposed this kind of move.

It will be interesting to see how McCain responds to this. McCain’s foreign policy platform thus far in the general has largely consisted of “Don’t surrender (read, withdraw any troops at all) in Iraq” and “Don’t negotiate with dictators.” In the past week Bush has now completely undercut that platform. He’s set a “time horizon” in Iraq and sent high ranking officials to negotiate with Iran. How does McCain respond to his foreign policy being mooted by Bush?

On the Obama side this couldn’t be timed better. He’s scheduled to head to Iraq this week, as well as to Europe and Israel, and this can’t come at a better time. Obama will meet with Iraqi leaders, who just embraced his position, and General Petraeus, who had to have signed off on this, putting Obama in a great position. Now, instead of meeting with officials who are publicly opposed to his position, he will be talking about to how to implement his plans, which aren’t substantively different from theirs.

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Engagement

On the heels of yesterday’s stunning announcement that a top State Department official would actually meet with Iranians, the Guardian has quite a bombshell:

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section – a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

Wow.

If true this really is shocking. After nearly 8 full years of steadfastly opposing any sort of engagement with Iran Bush is going to send diplomats to Tehran? Talk about Obama defining the middle of the debate. Bush has until now defined the far right position on Iran, yet now all of a sudden he’s awfully close to Obama.

In related news of our opening with Iran, the State Department and the NBA teamed up to bring the Iranian men’s basketball team to the United States for their pre-Olympic warmup.

NEW YORK, July 15, 2008—The Basketball Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its FIBA Asia Champion men’s national basketball team have been invited by the NBA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, to compete against NBA teams and the NBA Development League Ambassadors over the next six days in Utah. As part of its trip, the Iranian national team will participate in the Rocky Mountain Revue presented by StoresOnline, the Utah Jazz-hosted summer league.

The Iranian national team will play four games during its stay in Utah as part of its preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, which will be played in Beijing, China. In addition to games and scrimmages, the team will also observe NBA team practices and engage NBA and D-League players and coaches in basketball dialogue. The team will also have the opportunity to visit American cultural sites.

Not a huge deal on its own, but in the context of the last couple of days it is yet another sign of increased US engagement with Iran. Overall, this is great news both for the US and the world. Engagement with Iran is a good thing that will ease international tensions. It will make it easier to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, especially with the direct, high-level talks. Who knew Bush cared about his legacy so much?

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Obama Defines the Middle

For all the hand wringing on the left about Obama’s supposed rush to the center, people seem to be really missing what has happened, especially on foreign policy. Obama hasn’t moved to the middle. He has redefined it. When the history of the 2008 campaign is written I have a feeling that the last couple of weeks will loom large in the story. Slowly but surely, the positions Obama has held for most of the campaign, if not for years.

It started around the beginning of July, when Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came out and said

“I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq,” Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon. “Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there.”

In some ways Mullen was just acknowledging reality. But it is a reality that Obama has acknowledged for a long time. On September 12, 2007 Obama said

When we end this war in Iraq, we can finally finish the fight in Afghanistan. That is why I propose stepping up our commitment there, with at least two additional combat brigades and a comprehensive program of aid and support to help Afghans help themselves.

Then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki came out for a timeline for American withdrawal from Iraq and against permanent American bases, a position Obama has held since he entered Congress. Obama then turned around and argued in a New York Times op-ed this week that when should embrace his and Maliki’s plan for withdrawal.

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

Then, we got word that a Pentagon study on the future of Iraq would recommend an even faster withdrawal than Obama has proposed

Expected to be completed in about a month, it will recommend that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now. The strategy is based on a major handoff to the increasingly successful Iraqi Army, with platoon-size U.S. detachments backing the Iraqis from small outposts, with air support. The large U.S. forward operating bases that house the bulk of U.S. troops would be mostly abandoned, and the role of Special Forces would increase.

Next, we got word that the Bush administration itself is considering further drawdowns of troops in Iraq.

Paradox #1: The Bush Administration’s is Embracing Obama’s Position on Iraq.

Yes, you read it here first: the Bush Administration is begrudgingly coming around to Barack Obama’s position on Iraq; namely supporting a timetable for withdrawal of troops. Now of course, the Bush folks have not adopted this position for all the same reasons that Sen. Obama did last year, but two points are particularly revealing:

The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq. One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional American troops in Afghanistan . . .

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for . . . other missions.

Of course, the need to send more troops to Afghanistan and deal with the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda (as well as relieve the burden on the military) are two of the key reasons why Obama has been calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq. The approach of the Bush Administration is moving closer to that of the Obama.

Then came yesterday, when two more bits of news broke that shifted the entire foreign policy debate in Obama’s direction. First, John McCain essentially adopted Obama’s Afghanistan policy, calling for more American troops.

Obama has been making this case for investing in Afghanistan and Pakistan for months. By calling for a surge in Afghanistan, McCain is essentially agreeing with him.

Secondly, we got the bombshell news that the Bush administration is sending the third ranking official in the State Department to negotiate with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.

President Bush has authorized the most significant American diplomatic contact with Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, sending the State Department’s third-ranking official to Geneva for a meeting this weekend on Iran’s nuclear program, administration officials said Tuesday.

The decision appeared to bend, if not exactly break, the administration’s insistence that it would not negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programs unless it first suspended uranium enrichment, as demanded by three resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

Still, after months of accusations and counteraccusations from the United States and Iran, the meeting raised the prospect of an intensified diplomatic push to resolve concerns over Iranian nuclear activity, not unlike the lengthy and painstaking talks that resulted in a deal last month with North Korea.

William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, will attend a meeting on Saturday with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement on Wednesday.

Increased diplomacy with Iran has long been one of the defining elements of Obama’s foreign policy proposals. He took intense heat for his stand in the primaries, when Hillary Clinton attacked him as naive for his willingness to engage in Presidential diplomacy, and then again in the opening of the general, when John McCain went after him for “talking to dictators.” But now George W. Bush is the one radically increasing America’s diplomatic contact with Iran, moving towards Obama’s long standing position.

All in all the last couple of weeks have been remarkable. Far from being the foreign policy radical that McCain has attempted to paint Obama as, Obama has defined the middle. The administration, the Pentagon, the Iraqis and John McCain himself are all coalescing around Obama’s foreign policy positions. On Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, far from Obama moving to the middle, the middle has moved to Obama.

Then, yesterday, Obama further defined his positions in a remarkable foreign policy speech. The speech is worth reading in its entirety to get a full sense of Obama’s foreign policy program, but its essence is clear. Obama is making sure the middle of the American foreign policy debate revolves squarely around him. Whereas McCain has stayed focused on Iraq and to a small extent Afghanistan, Obama also addresses global terrorism, climate change and diplomacy, while putting the entirety of the foreign policy challenges we face in context.

Imagine, for a moment, what we could have done in those days, and months, and years after 9/11.

We could have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan.

We could have secured loose nuclear materials around the world, and updated a 20th century non-proliferation framework to meet the challenges of the 21st.

We could have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in alternative sources of energy to grow our economy, save our planet, and end the tyranny of oil.

We could have strengthened old alliances, formed new partnerships, and renewed international institutions to advance peace and prosperity.

We could have called on a new generation to step into the strong currents of history, and to serve their country as troops and teachers, Peace Corps volunteers and police officers.

We could have secured our homeland–investing in sophisticated new protection for our ports, our trains and our power plants.

We could have rebuilt our roads and bridges, laid down new rail and broadband and electricity systems, and made college affordable for every American to strengthen our ability to compete.

We could have done that.

Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Our men and women in uniform have accomplished every mission we have given them. What’s missing in our debate about Iraq – what has been missing since before the war began – is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and its dominance of our foreign policy. This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.

I am running for President of the United States to lead this country in a new direction – to seize this moment’s promise. Instead of being distracted from the most pressing threats that we face, I want to overcome them. Instead of pushing the entire burden of our foreign policy on to the brave men and women of our military, I want to use all elements of American power to keep us safe, and prosperous, and free. Instead of alienating ourselves from the world, I want America – once again – to lead.

As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy – one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin. I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

That foreign policy platform is not the middle of the American debate. That is a remarkable position for Obama to be in. He is already strongly preferred by the electorate on domestic and economic policy. McCain’s positions on Iraq and Iran are be radically undercut by events. And now everyone is converging around Obama. As long as Obama doesn’t give the middle back he is in the drivers seat of this election.

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