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Daily Column
US Papers Wed: Iraq of 2 Minds About America
Obama Faces a Chasm in Mideast: Legacy of Distrust Complicates Speech
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/03/2009 02:00 AM ET
Middle-Eastern views on US policy, namely views held by Iraqis, are the subject of the two main stories today - Obama and Hill are the ones selling the policy. An American serviceman killed in May is remembered.

From Iraq
In the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland report on the balancing act of US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, that of trying to convince some Iraqis (fearful of too quick a withdrawal) that “support” will be ongoing, while convincing others (for whom a withdrawal couldn’t come quick enough) that there is actually a plan to leave. Of course there are more shades of Iraqi opinion than these two examples, and this is demonstrated in the article. Public opinion normally seems to hover between these two poles, at least in how people talk about the issues.

Part of the problem, write Rubin and Nordland, comes from an American public and government that would like Iraq all wrapped up and finished, before it is ready.
One of Mr. Hill’s first public statements was an announcement of the death of two embassy staff members who were killed by a bomb on May 25. The problem faced by Mr. Hill and the Obama administration is that the shooting is not over and if Iraq lurches out of control again, it will be on their watch and there will not be a Bush administration to blame. Although Americans might wish it otherwise, Iraq is not yet a stable society, a united country or even a place where the citizens agree on the form of government.
Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post writes a piece for the day before President Obama’s much-hyped speech “to the Middle East” from Cairo. Thoughts on the expectations Obama brings to Cairo are discussed, as are the baggage he must also lug with him as a United States president. Quotes are offered from a few different Middle Eastern countries, but the majority of them are firmly based in Iraq.

Though there is great interest in what Obama will say, there is a reoccurring notion that the proof will be in the pudding, and not a whole lot of pudding is expected. The dateline is Haditha, where a man speaks in a room where four of his brothers were killed by US Marines. "Talk does nothing. Everyone has talked. I talked, others talked. The entire town has talked," he said. “What have all those words brought us? It's just talk."

Some of the hope associated with Obama is due to him being Obama. “Just as important,” writes Shadid, “he is not George W. Bush.”
But Obama will still encounter a landscape in which two realities often seem to be at work, shaped by those symbols. There is America's version of its policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, defined in recent years by the legacy of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. There is another reality, from hardscrabble quarters of Beirut and Cairo to war-wrecked neighborhoods of Baghdad, where distrust of the United States runs so deep that almost anything it pronounces, however eloquent, lacks credibility, imposing a burden on Obama to deliver something far more than the unfulfilled pledges of Bush's speeches.
Also in the Washington Post, Mark Berman writes a remembrance of Cpl. Ryan C. McGhee of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regimen, who died on March 13 in Iraq. McGhee was 21 years old. His story is told through events in his life and through the words of family.

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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