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August 23, 2008

Five Things The Biden Pick Shows
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

1.  National security is now best understood as a litmus test or threshold issue for many voters; they may not decide based on it alone, but if you don't give off a sufficient aura of seriousness, you can't close the deal, especially if you are a progressive. 

2.  Taking the time to strategize about the links between national security and domestic policy/politics is, as Madeleine Albright used to say, not just the right thing to do but the smart thing.  Joe Biden built an entire primary campaign around being the national security guy -- and being the guy with the loudest, most heartfelt critique of Bush policies.  The attack-dog strategy, and a willingness to go a little farther than the next guy, wasn't necessarily what you'd expect from a card-carrying member of the national security establishment.  But it worked.  In my experience in Michigan and Iowa, that's what his fans remember him for.  Might he just be the reverse Scoop Jackson of the 21st century?

3.  Nice guys don't finish last, especially when, as Moira notes, they put good teams together to help them.  The two parts of the Biden legend I'll personally vouch for are the quality of the staff, since I know many and hired one; and the riding Amtrak home to the family ever night.  For a hard year in the 1980s my family thanked our lucky stars that Joe was keeping that Amtrak stop open for our dad, too, as he did the same commute.

4.  American lives do have second, third and fourth acts.  Sorry, F. Scott.

5.  The mid-atlantic region is the new epicenter of cool, or at the very least the bellwether of America right now.  You've got old middle class (industrial, union jobs) and new middle class (insurance, casinos, pharmaceuticals).  You've got old-line Catholic Reagan Democrats and brand-new Catholic Hispanic immigrants; you can drink a latte to wash down your hoagie, arugula and funnel cakes.  Then you will feel good, bloated and uneasy all at once.  That's my America.  If you don't believe me, check out my friend Lynne Raughley's Lives column in tomorrow's Times, about growing up in Atlantic City.  Coincidence?

Continue reading "Five Things The Biden Pick Shows" »

Biden People
Posted by Moira Whelan

Ditto what Shawn said about Biden, but I wanted to toss out one thing for consideration…

I, like others, have been impressed with his mastery of the broad range of national security issues and his early identification of emerging challenges. He knows how various factors fit together and his judgment is for the most part, excellent.

But what has impressed me most, for years, is his staff. He knows how to pick ‘em, and that’s no small thing. Brilliant people come and go in DC, but rarely do they also have the ability to pick quality staff the way Biden does. His folks always are among the brightest from a policy standpoint, but also possess a sophisticated political acumen. It’s a rare but valuable combination. I’ve had the privilege of working for, and with, many of these folks, and count them among my friends. I’ve always gotten the sense that their boss respected them for their abilities and listened to their ideas rather then them simply having to implement his. They were encouraged to push hard and dig deep on issues. They were challenged by Biden, but in a good way. The Boss reads, talks to experts, and asks questions. He challenges his staff and calls them to the carpet. Why? Because the most important thing is to get the answer right and to be honest about the challenges we face.

As a result of having a staff that is so good, Biden is almost never behind the curve of policy developments. He’s proactive, not reactive.That’s a huge strategic advantage, and as a result, becoming a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a badge of validation among foreign policy folks. Further than that, you’ll hear from many foreign policy experts how closely they work with Biden. They’re not making it up. Biden counts on a broad range of people to get the job done right. Many, many people feel they have influence on his approach and as a result when the final product is announced, they feel invested, but the view is all Biden, and usually better. Biden collects the best. Simple as that.

This translates in a big way to an executive branch position. If Obama-Biden is the winning ticket, lots of people will be brought in to reverse the reckless policies of the past 7 years and put America on the right track. With such a small window of time and so much to do, picking the right people is critical. Biden recognizes talent, and has learned how to pick people with sound policy judgment but who can also navigate the interagency, and the multiple political roadblocks thrown in the path of even the purest of intentions. This could be his greatest contribution to an Obama administration.

If Obama-Biden takes command on January 20, it will be with the most talented people available to implement what needs to be done, not just the people who campaigned well.

Congrats to all my Biden pals, and good luck to you.

NYT: Biden as VP choice
Posted by Shawn Brimley

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph Biden to be his partner on the road to the White House:

Senator Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware to be his running-mate, turning to a leading authority on foreign policy and a longtime Washington hand to fill out the Democratic ticket, people told of the decision said.

Mr. Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is familiar with foreign leaders and diplomats around the world. Although he initially voted to authorize the war in Iraq — Mr. Obama opposed it from the start — Mr. Biden became a persistent critic of President Bush’s policies in Iraq.

...Chief among Mr. Biden’s strengths is his familiarity with foreign policy and national security issues, highlighted just this past weekend with the invitation he received from the embattled president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, to visit Georgia in the midst of its tense faceoff with Russia. From the moment he dropped out of the presidential race, he had been mentioned as a potential Secretary of State should either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton win the election.

From a foreign policy angle alone, this is very good news. Senator Biden has long been a leader that understands the centrality of foreign policy issues and has shown clear leadership as Chairman of the SFRC. His series of comprehensive hearings on Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous other key issues provided context to complex issues, and accountability to a White House that prefered to keep America in the dark on central issues of statecraft. So congratulations to Senator Biden and let's begin the push to November and the White House.

ps - and if it turns out the NYT is wrong in its reporting... well, I'll grow a beard.

August 22, 2008

The SOFA will include a timetable (updated)
Posted by Shawn Brimley

So the forthcoming agreement will include a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. This from the Washington Post:

In agreeing to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraqi cities by June, and from the rest of the country by 2011, President Bush has apparently consented to precisely the kind of timetable that, when Democrats called for one, he dismissed as "setting a date for failure." Bush can call it an "aspirational goal" until he turns blue, but a timetable is exactly what it is, thank you very much.

Bush has repeatedly warned that politics and public opinion should have no role in the decision about when to leave Iraq, but apparently he just meant American politics and public opinion. A clear majority of Americans has favored a withdrawal timetable for several years now, putting anti-war Democrats in control of Congress in 2006.

Bush's acquiescence pulls the rug out from under Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose position on Iraq was largely identical to Bush's -- pre-backflip. In some ways, the new timetable is even shorter than the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

So how is this not exactly what Bush had previously decried as an invitation to disaster? The White House line will be that the timetable is still somewhat conditional -- and only possible because the situation on the ground has improved.

President Bush endorses a timetable, Prime Minister Maliki endorses a timetable, and Senator Obama endorses a timetable. I will be interested in how the McCain campaign explains this one.

Update: this from HASC Chairman Ike Skelton:

“After years of resisting calls from Congress, the Bush Administration has finally agreed to a timeline for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq.  This is a very significant development and I am pleased that the Iraqi Government was able to convince the Bush Administration that this is a positive approach.  My House colleagues and I have consistently supported this position and over one year ago passed my bill, H.R. 2956, the Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act.   

“The timelines proposed in this agreement are longer than those I have advocated and I want to know more details to determine whether the deadlines set by this agreement are sound, but I am encouraged by what seems to be real progress in making plans to responsibly redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq.  It is also critical that the final agreement provide immunity for our troops, an issue which I raised with the President in June.  I will carefully review the agreement when it becomes final to make sure it fully reflects those concerns.”

SOFA Details Part Deux
Posted by Patrick Barry

Shawn is absolutely right to point out the perils of isolating SOFA negotiations from the broader question of political reconciliation in Iraq.  Trying to hammer out the details of this agreement even as Iraqi security forces crack down on a 100,000-strong, Sunni-affiliated armed movement is undoubtedly very dangerous.  But this is not just an issue of handing the President's successor a flaming tinder-box out of a failure to use SOFA discussions as leverage for political movement.  The SOFA will also have more concrete implications for the Sons of Iraq.  Take a look at this:

"General Perkins also noted that American and Iraqi officials had tentatively agreed to a plan to hopefully transfer 58,000 American-paid militia guards this year onto Iraqi government payrolls under the command of the Baghdad Operation Center, which reports to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki."

"...And while American officials are insistent that the program to pay militia guards continue to operate, General Perkins said it was not yet clear what recourse the military would have to prevent the Iraqi government from ending the program once it took control."

This is potentially a huge problem, and one on which the pending SOFA agreement will have a significant, and direct bearing.  As the U.S. turns over decision-making authority to Iraqi security forces, it risks losing what little control it has over the Sons of Iraq.  Not only is it possible that current efforts to integrate the Sunni militias into the ISF could end, but the Iraqis may even decide to oppose the current U.S. policy of providing these militias with financial support. Unless the U.S. can reconcile its policy of helping Iraqis to stand on their own with the strategic necessity of integrating the Awakening movement into the security forces - part of a broader strategy for political reconciliation - I fear that this problem could grow much, much worse as the handover of authority takes place.

Update: I missed this post, but Dr. iRack over at Abu Muqawama provides a much deeper assessment of this issue.  This is troubling stuff. Apparently there have been whisperings that the date for U.S. forces to be out of Iraqi cities coincides exactly with the date for transitioning the Sons of Iraq to Iraqi government control.

The Home of Habeas and Exposing America's Torture Regime
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A few months ago, I wrote about what role foreign courts would play (specifically the case of Binyam Mohamed in Britain)  in both exposing the Administration's deployment of torture on detainees and  undermining the military tribunal process already greatly weakened by America courts. Yesterday, Britain's High Court ruled in the Mohamed case, stating that the MI5 was complicit in his “unlawful interrogation,” detention and torture.  The details of Mohamed's case are quite gruesome, but for the most part, documents associated with it have been secretly held on national security grounds because, according to Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband, "disclosure would harm Britain's intelligence relationship with the US."  Well, in the same case, the court also repudiated Miliband's claim, which should have broad repercussions in the U.K. and America:

A British court ordered Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Thursday to disclose secret documents that could prove critical to the defense of a Guantanamo Bay detainee who claims he was tortured while in U.S. custody on terrorism charges.

Prosecutors have prepared charges against Mohamed, but they must be approved by Susan Crawford, a U.S. Defense Department official who oversees the military commissions. The Pentagon said Crawford was still reviewing the charges and information provided by the defense.

U.S. Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith declined to speak about the high court decision, saying it would be "inappropriate to comment about another country's court rulings.

Interesting that it is inappropriate to comment on another country's court rulings when they have a greater potential to expose the Bush administration's failure to maintain the moral high ground, follow international law and uphold the ideals of our constitution while prosecuting the war on terror than America's court system has, in certain respects, done. Surely, as is usually the case, the Administration would have been able to hide behind the veil of executive privilege during similar judicial proceedings here, and actual evidence of torture and illegal detention would never see the light of day.  Unfortunately, executive privilege doesn't travel overseas.

Of course perhaps since the idea of habeas corpus was hatched in Britain in the first place, they take it more seriously than we do. But it's sad that it takes a country with no formal constitution to protect and rescue our own once respected and sacrosanct constitution.

About Those SOFA Negotiations
Posted by Michael Cohen

Apparently the one area of agreement in the SOFA negotiations is revoking legal immunity for private security contractors from Iraqi law. It's not a good idea. In today's WSJ I try to explain why:

Nearly a year after the tragic shooting of 17 Iraqis by Blackwater security contractors, the Department of Justice is close to indicting six of the guards involved in the horrific events. This is a long overdue step toward holding contractors legally responsible for their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this positive move risks being overshadowed by a more destabilizing development: the apparent agreement, as part of U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement negotiations, to revoke the immunity from Iraqi law that private security contractors have enjoyed since 2003. This decision could place diplomats, Iraqi civilians and PSCs at greater risk, and undermine the U.S. mission in Iraq. More must be done to hold security contractors accountable for their actions -- but this is not the way to do it.

Read the whole piece here:

August 21, 2008

Details of the SOFA Emerge
Posted by Shawn Brimley

After months of negotiations, false starts, and a visit by Condi, it appears as though the arrangements of the new U.S.-Iraq bilateral security relationship are emerging. According to the Washington Post:

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are "very close" to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here...

[N]egotiators made progress on a specific timetable outlining the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, something Maliki is under considerable domestic political pressure to secure. In the past, Rice and other U.S. officials have spoken of an "aspirational time horizon" that would make withdrawals contingent on the continuation of improved security conditions and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have now also agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time.

Negotiators agreed several weeks ago to reduce the presence of all U.S. forces in Iraqi cities, among the most dangerous places soldiers operate, by the end of next year. That process would entail consolidating U.S. troops now deployed in small neighborhood posts into larger bases outside city centers, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials involved in the talks.

In the abstract this is good news - we certainly need a legal basis for continuing military operations as we drawdown troops slowly, safely, and responsibly. But what will make this extremely difficult and dangerous is the Maliki government's unwillingness to integrate a meaningful fraction of the 103,000 armed (mostly Sunni) local militias that have helped underpin the reduction in violence over the last year or so. This according to the New York Times:

The Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols, the groups of former insurgents who joined the American payroll and have been a major pillar in the decline in violence around the nation.

In restive Diyala Province, Unites States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military. At least five senior members have been arrested there in recent weeks, leaders of the groups say.

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

“The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”

So while we are busy negotiating a timeline for a withdrawal and a shift in mission, there is potentially going to be a rising level of violence as the Maliki government seems to believe it can solve the outstanding political issues "the Iraqi way."

Question: What happened the last time we humiliated tens of thousands of armed Sunni men in Iraq? 

But what really gets me going is the fact that we didn't seem to use these negotiations to push the Maliki government towards any political accomodation as a condition of our continued financial support and our training and advising of the Iraqi military. I feel that by negotiating this agreement without making our residual support conditional on political accomodation, we are dealing the next Commander in Chief an extremely bad hand.

And they drink Latte's too
Posted by Max Bergmann

Who again is the elitest Latte drinker???


(AP...via Politico)

August 20, 2008

As American As Baseball and Talking to Our Enemies?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

When the McCain campaign goes after an Orthodox Jew, former dean of Yeshiva U., career diplomat who was the Bush Administration's ambassador to Israel on 9-11, was caricatured in anti-Semitic cartoons in the Cairo press during his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt, where he bravely was a public face of Orthodoxy, and is the Commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League (you can't make this stuff up), for doing something the Israeli government is already doing (talking to Syrians), will someone please tell me exactly how this country is supposed to have a diplomatic establishment? 

My friend Eli Lake didn't think these things were worth reporting, and no surprise the McCain campaign smear machine didn't dig them up.  But one man of courage, faith and principle ought to be able to recognize another whether they agree or disagree.  When someone with a record like this can be trashed, how on earth are we supposed to have a bipartisan foreign policy establishment, or partisanship that stops at the water's edge?  (I know, I know, it was only a rhetorical question.  But still.)

McCain Attacks Obama's Support For Israeli Peace Negotiations
Posted by Max Bergmann

So the McCain campaign is attacking an Obama adviser, and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, for going to an American Bar Association conference in Damascus and calling on the Syrians to make peace with Israel. I guess to the McCain campaign, anyone that calls for peace through negotiations instead of "peace" through war is asking to be attacked. But this seems like a really dumb thing to do for two reasons.

1. If McCain is attacking Kurtzer (and therefore the Obama campaign) for being an appeaser, doesn't that mean that McCain also thinks that the Israelis are Chamberlin-like appeasers? The Israeli government is after all engaged in very public negotiations with Syria. In fact the Israeli military is one of the chief advocates of trying to negotiate a deal with Syria. Additionally, Assad recently had a very public meeting with Olmert and Sarkozy at the Mediterranean Conference where Olmert expressed hope that negotiations would develop. Does McCain oppose these efforts to negotiate peace? And if so doesn't that once again put McCain squarely in line with the Bush administration.

2. McCain himself once upon a time advocated talking to Syria. McCain is forgetting what he said about Colin Powell's trip to Damascus five years ago.  On the Today Show on April 18th 2003 McCain said that despite Syria being a state sponsor of terrorism, he was glad Powell was going there.

LAUER: Let me ask you about Syria.

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

LAUER: They have denied possessing weapons of mass destruction, they've also denied harboring any senior members of the Iraqi leader. The US administration says they have evidence to the contrary. How would you proceed with that situation?

Mr. McCAIN: I think it's very appropriate that Colin Powell is going to Syria. I think we should put diplomatic and other pressures on them. It's also a time for Mr. Asad Bashar to realize that he should be more like his father was. I think he's too heavily influenced by a lot of the radical Islamic elements and--and militant groups.

LAUER: Do you think Syria meets the criteria set forth by the president in his post-9/11 address to Congress that they pose an imminent threat to the US in that they are either sponsoring or harboring terrorists?

Mr. McCAIN: I think they're--they're sponsoring and harboring terrorists. I think they have been occupying Lebanon, which should be free and independent for a long time, but I don't think that that means that we will now resort to the military action. We--we can apply a lot of pressure other than military--than the military action. So what I'm saying, we're a long way away from it.

LAUER: Under what circumstances--under what circumstances would you back military action?

Mr. McCAIN: When we've exhausted all other options. And we have a lot of options to--to exercise.  And I'm glad Colin Powell's going there, but the Syrians have got to understand there's a new day in the Middle East.

Update: this post has been slightly updated

The GOP Loves Recycling
Posted by Adam Blickstein


Or at least resurrecting outdated and failed election themes from years past:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will give the keynote address at the Republican National Convention next month.

The theme will be "Country First" with four days devoted to service, reform, prosperity and peace.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other dignitaries also get speaking roles at the convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Of course the Giuliani/Bush/McCain axis of irony has a strong record on reform, prosperity and peace. Not to mention how much the American people love these guy who've always put America's priorities ahead of their own political goals. (h/t Andrew Sullivan)

August 19, 2008

A Pundit Not a President
Posted by Max Bergmann

Matt Yglesias has a great post which really captures a key component of McCain's foreign policy approach - it is rooted in hyperbolic rhetoric mixed with hysterical over reaction. As Matt describes it,

Not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that’s not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea’s nuclear program is “the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today” but that’s not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there’s no way to make sense of that, because it’s not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It’s a hysteria-based foreign policy.

Each of those statements from McCain sound like they came from an excited media pundit. Well that’s because they did.

McCain’s approach and tone on foreign policy has always been more emblematic of a tv pundit rather than a sober president. While McCain has attacked Obama as the "celebrity" candidate, the fact is that a bad place to be over the last 25 years has been between John McCain and a TV camera. The New York Times on Sunday noted that one of the first things McCain did after 9-11 was go on just about every TV program - where he incidentally called for attacking about four countries. In its biographical series profiling the candidates the Times also noted that McCain was attracted to the celebrity of the Senate with one close associate noting that McCain “saw the glamour of it. I think he really got smitten with the celebrity of power.” McCain clearly enjoys being on television and he has been a constant commentator on the Sunday news shows and the evening talk news programs.

But TV appearances encourage sound bites, over-the-top rhetoric, and good one-liners, not reasoned and nuanced diplomatic language. This is especially true from guests who are not in the current administration, since you are less likely to get invited back on Face the Nation if you down play a crisis or take a boring nuanced position. Thus on almost every crisis or incident over the last decade, McCain has sounded the alarm, ratcheted up the rhetoric and often called for military action - with almost no regards to the practical implications of such an approach.

The big concern with a McCain presidency – a concern which I am surprised has not been vocalized more fully – is that the U.S. will lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, whether it be with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. The danger is that McCain’s pundit-like rhetoric will entrap the U.S. in descending spiral of foreign policy brinksmanship. Just think about the very likely scenario of McCain giving Iran/Russia a rhetorical ultimatum and Iran/Russia ignoring it. Now we are stuck - either we lose face by not following through on our threats or we follow through and go to war.  We can’t afford such a reckless approach after the last eight years. For the next eight we need a president not a pundit.   

Science Diplomacy?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The New York Times has an interesting interview with Nina Federoff, who holds the unique positions of Science Advisor to Secretary of State Condi Rice:


A. Because science and technology are the drivers of the 21st century’s most successful economies.

There are more than six billion of us,  and the problems of a crowded planet are everyone’s: food, water, energy, climate change, environmental degradation. Other nations, even those that have lost respect for our culture and politics, still welcome collaboration on scientific and technological issues.

She goes on to discuss how State opens the door to intrastate collaboration on science and research by negotiating nation-to-nation science and technology agreements, bringing together scientists and engineers from across the world in some sort of bespectacled rendition of "It's a Small World" in a laboratory.  Of course, the rhetoric would be great if the Bush administration didn't have a spotty to sub-par to wretched record on financing science and research here in the U.S.  Not to mention science education, in which the U.S. has slipped far behind other industrial nations, ranking behind countries such as Latvia, France and Croatia in the latest assessments. 

Federoff acknowledges the loss of U.S. prestige around the world, but it doesn't help when the President routinely shrugs off science (global warming, agriculture, NASA) for political reasons. In fact in nearly all of the policy areas she names (food, water, energy, climate change, environmental degradation), America basically has no credibility on which to lead let alone influence other nations with the Administration having so completely squandered our moral authority.

The bottom line is diplomacy of any kind only works if American policies back-up our rhetoric, and the rest of the world can trust our leadership. Sadly, with science, as elsewhere, the sanguine veneer the Bush administration tries wash itself in fails to hide its reckless record and failed policies, resulting in more hollow diplomacy abroad.

August 18, 2008

Canceling Iraq’s Blank Check
Posted by Shawn Brimley

As soon as I get to it I plan on writing up a long post on the trip I took to Iraq in July and August. For now, below is a section and link from a piece posted on Foreign Policy online by yours truly and my co-travelers Colin Kahl and John Nagl:

Traveling across Iraq as the surge ended, it was impossible to ignore the dramatic improvements in security. In 10 days on the ground in and around Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, we did not hear a shot fired in anger. Remember the "triangle of death" just south of Baghdad? Soldiers now jokingly call it the "triangle of love."

Jokes aside, Iraq remains a dangerous place—and a number of significant attacks did take place out of earshot during our trip. But overall violence against Iraqi civilians and U.S. and Iraqi forces has fallen to levels not seen since early 2004. And as U.S. forces have stepped down from the surge, Iraqi security forces have started to find their feet. In recent months, the Iraqi Army has conducted successful operations in Amara, Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City (and they are currently engaged in operations in Diyala province). Iraqi security forces now control most of the country. In Basra, a southern metropolis infested with Shiite militias a few short months ago, we were able to tour the entire city in an Iraqi Army convoy accompanied by only a handful of coalition advisors.

Up north, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is still deadly. Half of all attacks now occur in and around Mosul, where AQI remnants continue to find sanctuary. U.S. military commanders and intelligence analysts, however, now believe the group has been strategically defeated. AQI remains capable of intimidation, assassination, and periodic spectacular bombings, but it no longer poses a threat to the viability of the Iraqi state. The same goes for Iranian-backed "special groups," which have been substantially degraded by recent offensives.

Despite the improved security environment, no one in Baghdad, including Gen. David Petraeus, is doing a victory dance (even as a rising number of commentators in Washington do just that). Those on the ground know that because none of the fundamental political grievances underlying Iraq's ethnosectarian conflict have been resolved, the security gains remain fragile and reversible.

Genuine reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites remains elusive. The "Sunni Awakening"—the Sunnis' decision to cooperate with U.S. forces against AQI—ranks among the biggest reasons for the decline in violence in Iraq. But don't be fooled: The awakening represents an accommodation with the United States, not the Shiites who dominate Iraq's government. These security gains could dissolve if the Sunni "Sons of Iraq"—many of them former insurgents—are not integrated into official forces or gainfully employed, and if emerging tribal leaders don't get an opportunity to share power at the local and national levels through elections. Yet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, to the great frustration of many Sunnis and U.S. military commanders, has been slow-rolling integration of the Sons of Iraq. Nor is the Iraqi prime minister likely to incorporate the most important elements due to their former allegiances to the Baath Party, Saddam's army, or the insurgency. Smoldering grievances among even a small percentage of the 100,000 armed Sons of Iraq could reignite a rebellion.

For the rest of the piece click here.

Obama the Pragmatist
Posted by Michael Cohen

I have a piece today over at the New York Times Campaign Stops blog about the pragmatism of Obama on the campaign trail. Figured it might be of interest to DA readers so for those of you so inclined, take a gander!

In his brief time on the national stage Barack Obama has been compared to a host of great 20th-century orators, including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. But the most apt comparison may be to one of the greatest 19th-century orators: Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader.

In The New York Times recent examination of Mr. Obama’s career as a law school professor, a former student noted that he regularly evoked Douglass and not simply for his speaking skills but also for his “use of a collective voice that embraced black and white concerns.” For those seeking to get a clearer sense of what type of president Mr. Obama may be, his invocation of Douglass lends itself to several interpretations.

Douglass’s rise to prominence came from being a radical spokesman for abolition and a frequent critic of President Abraham Lincoln for the slow pace in which he worked to end slavery. But that was the younger Frederick Douglass. The thinking of the older Douglass appears to have had a more significant impact on Mr. Obama’s political thinking and in particular his campaign rhetoric.

More here

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