Obama in Iraq
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times kick off the fun with a recap of the senator's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given the controversy of Maliki's endorsement of Obama's timeline (more or less), then a clumsy attempt at a walkback, that must have been an interesting meeting. After the meeting, however, Ali al-Dabbagh came out and said Iraq is hopeful combat troops can leave in 2010. Hm. Sounds pretty definite. This will complicated Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, given his insistence on no timelines. It's a bit ironic, eh? Now McCain is on the defensive and overshadowed by a foreign trip he goaded Obama into. Oops!
Richard Wolf and Kathy Kiely have a serviceable story for USA Today on Obama's visit. He stuck to his guns on his pullout plan and said while that may not please generals in Iraq, "my job is to think about the national security interests as a whole." Oh, snap! Interestingly, Obama reasserted civilian control of the military, which he implied President George W. Bush had allowed to slip. "Obama said he would not choose 'a rigid timeline of such and such a date, come hell or high water.' At the same time, he said, he also would not simply defer to military commanders." (Emphasis added.) Wow, double snap.
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor follows Obama to Iraq and files a general story. One quibble: Way down at the bottom, he quotes Omar Abdul Sattar, a Sunni parliamentarian, who thought this was Obama's first trip to Iraq and possibly his first time outside the U.S. Now, a reporter can't help it if a source has wrong information, but he should not report that wrong information without correcting it in print. This is obviously neither Obama's first time in Iraq (he went pre-surge in January 2006) nor is it is first time outside the U.S. (He spent years in Indonesia.) These fallacies should have been addressed in print so Monitor readers don't fall for them.
Oppel and Jeff Zeleny of the Times pen an analysis of the trip, recounting the clear support Maliki's government gave to Obama's pullout plan. The duo notes that with Maliki, Obama and even the White House talking "time horizons" (or whatever they need to call it to feel good), McCain is looking increasingly isolated on the issue. The abrupt alignment of the Iraqis with Obama's position means the young senator gains credibility on the world stage as a smart global leader and undermines McCain's main argument against him: That a withdrawal timeline is tantamount to surrender and abandoning the Iraqis. Hm. All respect to McCain, but does Vietnam still have a hold on him? Anyway, the visuals of the day certainly didn't favor McCain. While Obama got to ride around in a chopper with Gen. David H. Petraeus, McCain got a golf cart ride in Maine with Bush. He also made reference to a mysterious "Iraq-Pakistan" border, a verbal flub that sounds like he mixes up Afghanistan and Iraq, which is pretty much what Bush did in 2003. In all, this trip, has -- so far -- been a resounding success for Obama, leaving McCain aides to sputter in frustration.
The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller made McCain's marginalization complete, calling him a "wallflower at an international political dance." While Obama was surrounded by smiling U.S. troop, McCain was surrounded by ... preppies. He spent the day in Kennebunkport, Maine, at the former President George H.W. Bush's home. He betrayed exasperation with the attention Obama was getting, but really, it's his own fault. As noted, he double-dog-dared Obama to go, and now the Democrat is running the table on him. His advisors are bitter and lashing out. McCain even went so far as to say his surge strategy -- actually more Petraeus's, but whatever -- allowed Obama to get to Iraq. Um, he went to Iraq in January 2006, before the surge, dude. McCain continues to insist Maliki's endorsement of Obama's timeline don't undercut him, but as Bumiller reports, "Mr. McCain did not explain precisely why he thought he had not been undercut." Ouch.
When Sen. Barack Obama left Washington last week, he was under pressure to defend what Republican critics called an arbitrary deadline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq. By Monday, the White House and rival Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign were at pains to explain why the Iraqi prime minister had seemingly all but endorsed Obama's relatively rapid timeline for getting out.And that, pretty much sums it up. Balz, however, notes the political winds that have lately shifted for Obama could easily shift back. The Iraqi government rarely speaks with one voice and the generals charged with carrying out any withdrawal orders have serious reservations about Obama's plans. And his opposition to the surge does leave room for opponents to question his judgment. Balz does get a bit unfair in saying that al-Dabbagh called for a timetable eight months longer than Obama's; Reuters and AP have differing translations of what al-Dabbagh actually said, and Balz took the one least charitable to Obama. In all, Balz is the one reporter not buying into the Obamania today.
David Jackson of USA Today reports on the McCain campaign's frustrations. Interesting, John Bolton claims the White House is moving toward McCain's position.
John D. McKinnon, Gina Chon and Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal report the pact being hammered out between Washington and Baghdad would likely include target dates for turning over control and withdrawing U.S. combat troops, but would also depend on conditions on the ground.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
E.J. Dionne Jr. writes that Obama merely has to battle McCain to a tie on foreign policy to win, which is what he's doing right now.
A USA Today editorial tries to get readers to believe there aren't many differences between Obama and McCain when it comes to Iraq. For anyone paying attention, it's a weak editorial.
Conservative talk radio host Michael Medved draws a strained parallel between the Philippine insurrection of 1900 and the Iraq war. Surprise, in his analogy, the Republicans win.