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US Papers Sunday: Finger-Pointing Gone Wild
As Petraeus Takes Command of US Forces in Iraq, DC Blame Game Heats Up
By EASON JORDAN 02/11/2007 01:59 AM ET

Read on to learn why the Washington Post is spanking itself.

The NY Times and the Washington Post report on General David Petraeus taking command of U.S. forces in Iraq, with Petraeus declaring the mission hard but not hopeless. Both papers report a key difference between Petraeus and his predecessor, General George Casey, is Petraeus's desire for US forces to be front and center in the counterinsurgency, while Casey felt strongly US forces should increasingly play a back-up role to the Iraqi security forces. In the Times, Damien Cave quotes an anonymous deputy of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as saying the Iraqi government hopes for a "smoother and more positive relationship" with Petraeus than with Casey. The Post story by Jonathan Partlow contains some choice quotes from Casey. He said he leaves Iraq (to become the Army’s chief of staff) proud but “a little numb.” The story ends with these comments from Casey:

"Everything's not as I would have expected it to be or wanted it to be on my way out, but that's kind of the way things are," he said.

Casey said his greatest fear for the country is that "Iraqis can't put the past behind them."

"We liberated them from 35 years of tyranny; we can't liberate them from the fears and the prejudices that grew up in that 35 years. They have to do that themselves," he said. "I think they'll get past it, but if they don't, it'll be difficult."

Iraq was prominently mentioned in reporting on Barack Obama’s official entry into the US presidential race. In his presidential run declaration, Obama called the war a “tragic mistake” and repeated his call for a phased withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The NY Times’s Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write that Obama aides "believe the biggest advantage he has over Mrs. Clinton is his difference in position on the Iraq war." Post correspondents Dan Blaz and Anne Kornblut write “Obama’s sharpest difference with both Clinton and (John) Edwards is his (Obama’s) early opposition to the Iraq war.”

The Post and the Times report on Hillary Clinton getting grilled on Iraq during her first campaign visit to New Hampshire. In the Times, Patrick Healy reports Mrs. Clinton was warmly welcomed but faced tough questioning on the war. Healy writes of one audience member during a Q & A with Clinton asking “right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance” to call her 2002 vote authorizing the war a mistake. She refused to do so. In the Post, correspondent Chris Cillizza quotes the questioner after the event as saying “Until she says it was a mistake, she won’t get my vote.”


In the Week in Review section, Helene Cooper reports on the Iraq fiasco blame game in Washington. “This is not all a finger-pointing exercise,” Cooper quotes Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace telling a Senate panel this week. But as Cooper notes, with Iraq going so badly, it’s finger-pointing gone wild in Washington. The report is accompanied by this nifty illustration of finger pointers and who they’re blaming.

Columnist Frank Rich applauds Barack Obama, saying the Illinois senator has “the judgment about Iraq than his rivals lack.” Rich says Obama is steady and consistent in opposing the war and calling for a phased withdrawal.


In a Washington-datelined story headlined “US Keeps Pressure on Iran But Decreases Saber Rattling,” Karen DeYoung reports Bush administration officials have decided to stop hinting at the possibility of military action against Iran while being forthright about concerns about alleged Iranian shenanigans in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, and more.

Reporting from the Al Asad, Iraq, Christian Davenport writes of an Iowa National Guard battalion that's had its Iraq tour extended due to the US military’s “surge.” The soldiers were weeks away from returning home when they learned their time in Iraq was being extended until July or August. Morale among the soldiers was especially hard hit because they learned of their extension in Iraq not from their commanders but from relatives back in the US.

From Washington, Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman report on the running battle between Senate Republicans and Democrats over whether to allow there to be a vote on a bi-partisan non-binding resolution opposing the US troop increase in Iraq. The correspondents point out the flip-flop of Virginia Republican John Warner voting against allowing a Senate vote on a resolution that he co-sponsored. Warner subsequently reversed his position and is calling for a vote.

In the opinion section, former US Army Lt. Gen. William Odom writes that the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq served as "a declaration of defeat" for the US in Iraq. He shoots holes in what he says are four myths about why a US withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake and calls on Bush or Congress or both to reverse the US troop build-up in Iraq and plot the US military exit from the country.

US Army Lt. Col. Gian Gentile provides an op-ed arguing that based on his experience in Baghdad it’s obvious the war in Iraq cannot be won until the Iraqi government is viewed as legitimate and respected among the Iraqi people.

Columnist Jim Hoagland writes that foreign diplomats have grown so frustrated with the Bush administration that they’re now lobbying Congress for favors and action.

Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell takes aim at for permitting an incendiary online column in which military veteran William Arkin referred to the US military as a “mercenary” force. Arkin, who writes a national security column for, has since apologized, but Howell blasts the Post’s online service for not nixing the comment in the editing process and for clearly having laxer editorial standards than the print edition of the Washington Post.


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