BACKGROUND & CHARACTER
JUDGES & COURTS
At the same time the Bush administration was negotiating a still elusive agreement to keep the U.S. military in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to convince Iraqi leaders in private conversations that the president shouldn’t be allowed to enact the deal without congressional approval.
Mr. Obama’s conversations with the Iraqi leaders, confirmed to The Washington Times by his campaign aides, began just two weeks after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June and stirred controversy over the appropriateness of a White House candidate’s contacts with foreign governments while the sitting president is conducting a war.
Some of the specifics of the conversations remain the subject of dispute. Iraqi leaders purported to The Times that Mr. Obama urged Baghdad to delay an agreement with Mr. Bush until next year when a new president will be in office – a charge the Democratic campaign denies.
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Mr. Obama spoke June 16 to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari when he was in Washington, according to both the Iraqi Embassy in Washington and the Obama campaign. Both said the conversation was at Mr. Zebari’s request and took place on the phone because Mr. Obama was traveling.
However, the two sides differ over what Mr. Obama said.
“In the conversation, the senator urged Iraq to delay the [memorandum of understanding] between Iraq and the United States until the new administration was in place,” said Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States.
He said Mr. Zebari replied that any such agreement would not bind a new administration. “The new administration will have a free hand to opt out,” he said the foreign minister told Mr. Obama.
Mr. Sumaidaie did not participate in the call, he said, but stood next to Mr. Zebari during the conversation and was briefed by him immediately afterward.
The call was not recorded by either side, and Mr. Zebari did not respond to repeated telephone and e-mail messages requesting direct comment.
Mr. Obama has called for a phased U.S. withdrawal of all but a residual force from Iraq over 16 months, a position the Iraqi government appears to have embraced.
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U.S. and Iraqi officials have been struggling for months to finalize a deal that will allow U.S. troops to remain after Dec. 31, when a U.N. mandate sanctioning the military presence expires. Iraqi officials have said that the main impediment is agreement over a timeline for U.S. redeployment and immunity from Iraqi prosecution for U.S. troops and civilians.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Mr. Obama does not object to a short-term status of forces agreement, or SOFA.
Mr. Obama told Mr. Zebari in June that a SOFA “should be completed before January and it must include immunity for U.S. troops,” Miss Morigi wrote in an e-mail.
However, the Democratic nominee said a broader strategic framework agreement governing a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq “should be vetted by Congress,” she wrote.
She said Mr. Obama said the same thing when he met in July with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Mr. Zebari in Baghdad.
A recent article in the New York Post quoted Mr. Zebari as saying that Mr. Obama asked Iraqi leaders in July to delay any agreement on a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq until the next U.S. president takes office.
Miss Morigi denied this. She said the request for Senate vetting was bipartisan and noted that the first Obama-Zebari conversation took place 12 days after four other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – including Republican Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska – wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging consultation over any agreements committing U.S. troops and civilian contractors to Iraq “for an extended period of time.”
When Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Zebari, he was speaking in his capacity as a senator and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Miss Morigi said. “It’s obvious that others are trying to mischaracterize Obama’s position, [but] on numerous occasions he has made it perfectly clear that the United States only has one president at a time and that the administration speaks with one voice.”
Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who accompanied Mr. Obama in Iraq along with Mr. Hagel, said they made “no suggestion of any type of delay” in any agreements.
A congressional aide who was also present and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the senators asked for a congressional role similar to that required by the Iraqi Constitution for Iraq’s parliament.
Still, the fact that the Illinois Democrat on June 3 clinched enough delegates to be assured the Democratic presidential nomination gives his comments special force – something that also applies to the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key proponent of the surge of extra U.S. forces to Iraq last year.
As a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama “has a foot in both camps,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “It’s within the jurisdiction of his committee and something he’s entitled to speak about. It doesn’t raise a red flag for me.”
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on the matter.
Leslie Phillips, a press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, also declined to comment even though an embassy note-taker was present during the senators’ meeting in Iraq. “The embassy’s role is purely to facilitate the meetings,” she said.
Presidential nominees traditionally have not intervened personally in foreign-policy disputes, although campaign surrogates have done so.
Historian Robert Dallek has documented meetings with South Vietnamese diplomats in 1968 by Republican vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Anna Chennault, widow of Gen. Claire Chennault, the commander of “Flying Tiger” forces in China during World War II.
Mr. Dallek, author of “Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973,” obtained tapes of the conversations from bugs the Johnson administration had placed in the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.
Negotiations to end the Vietnam War were taking place in Paris at the time between the Johnson administration and the North and South Vietnamese.
Mr. Agnew and Mrs. Chennault “signaled the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal with Richard Nixon as president instead of the Democrat” Hubert Humphrey, Mr. Dallek said.
“Johnson was furious and said that Nixon was guilty of treason,” Mr. Dallek said, but neither he nor Mr. Humphrey disclosed the matter before the election, which Mr. Nixon won.
By Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | 5/27/2008
A fascinating scene played out in Basra, Iraq, last week. Troops from the Iraqi Army stood sentinel over the once restive city as followers of rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr muttered dispiritedly that they had been driven from power. In this Sadrist fiefdom, the erstwhile epicenter of a Shiite insurgency that many doubted could be contained, the Iraqi army was now law.
Credit this remarkable transformation to Operation Sawlat al-Fursan, also known as operation Charge of the Knights, which began with little fanfare and much skepticism in late March. A make-or-break test for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi armed forces, the operation was largely led by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Security Forces. Their success in routing militia elements in cities like Basra would reveal much about what could realistically be expected from Iraq.
Democrats were anything but optimistic. Presumptive nominee Barack Obama allowed that the operation had “resulted in some reduction in violence” but insisted, counterintuitively, that this only strengthened the case for rushed troop withdrawals. Hillary Clinton, never one to be pinned down on policy substance when grandstanding is an option, offered her standard refrain that the “surge has failed to accomplish its goals.” More candid was Joe Biden, who back in April was prepared to call a victory … for Sadr. Of Basra, he pronounced, it “looks to me like, at least on the surface, Sadr may have come out a winner here.” In the Democrats’ dismal exegesis, the surge had failed, Iraq was doomed, and withdrawal was the only viable option.
But despair, like hope, is not a policy. Two months on, the Democrats’ fatalism on Iraq looks woefully off base. By all significant indicators, Iraqi security forces have turned the tide against Shiite insurgents. Their improbable control of Basra is only the latest sign of the shifting balance of power. On the strength of the success in Basra, the military reports that violence in Iraq has plunged to its lowest level in over four years. Even the New York Times – no instinctive friend to the Bush administration – reports of Basra that with “Islamist militias evicted from their strongholds by the Iraqi Army, few doubt that this once-lawless port is in better shape than it was just two months ago.” Basra has indeed produced a winner. But contra Joe Biden, it’s not Muqtada al-Sadr.
Just as Shiite die-hards have suffered a devastating reversal, their Sunni counterparts in al-Qaeda are also in retreat. Witness the results in Mosul. Considered by the U.S. and Iraqi forces to be the terrorists’ last urban stronghold in Iraq, Mosul less than a month ago was a soulless Shari’a state. In keeping with Islamist mores, public expressions of joy were forbidden and local cultural traditions ruthlessly suppressed. Locals couldn’t even sell tomatoes and cucumbers side by side at the market, as the juxtaposition was deemed intolerably provocative by prudish jihadists. Since the beginning of a joint U.S. Iraqi operation earlier this month, however, attacks are down by 85 percent, at least 200 al-Qaeda terrorists have been netted in sweeps, and normalcy has been reestablished. Tomatoes and cucumbers, no longer sins against Islam, are just vegetables again.
It speaks to the misdirection of the party that what is good for Iraq and coalition forces is bad for Democrats. Thus, Democrats cannot applaud the recent rollback of al-Qaeda, since doing so would discredit their assurance that Iraq is wholly disconnected from the fight against bin Laden’s network. Neither can they celebrate the Iraqi forces’ success in Basra. That would contradict the narrative that Iraq is a lost cause best surrendered to its internal chaos. To acknowledge gains in security, meanwhile, would be to concede that the American troop presence – that is, the surge that Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were confidently declaring a “failure” last fall – is helping to pacify the country. Acknowledging that would, of course, nullify the logic of precipitous withdrawal. The only remaining option is to mouth the mantra that Iraq is a failure and hope that reality dovetails with defeatism.
Wiser and more principled is the position of John McCain. As an early proponent of the troop surge, McCain can lay claim to a prescience that not only eluded many of in his party but that continues to evade his expected Democratic opponent. Last week, for instance, Barack Obama cast a vote against the $165 billion funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That didn’t derail the funding bill, which passed the Senate anyway, but it did place Obama squarely on the side that has given up on the surge and, by extension, on the Iraq war. Buoyed by some polls, Obama is clearly betting that military defeat in Iraq will translate into political victory at home.
McCain may yet have the better of that argument. Against the increasingly tone-deaf attacks from Democrats, he can point out that Iraqi troops have defied expectations to perform competently and sometimes impressively, even without U.S. support; that the Shiite and Sunni terrorists have been substantially repelled; and that political reconciliation is for the first time visible on the horizon. He can add, too, that all this is dependent on the surge strategy that he championed and that Obama threatens to undo.
Seen in this light, the Democrats’ tactic of calling the surge the “Cheney-Bush-McCain” strategy may well boomerang to their disadvantage. Naturally, there will be those who scoff at the notion that Iraq could be an asset for McCain in the general election. But it’s worth bearing in mind that these same prognosticators just a month ago were instructing that Iraq’s future belonged to Sadr’s brigands and al-Qaeda’s killers. Of the presidential candidates, only John McCain can credibly pledge that he won’t let that happen.
It will be hard for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to go back to her Democratic colleagues and keep declaiming on the House floor about how the surge isn’t working in Iraq now that she has been there and seen for herself.
What she saw was buried in an AP report on her trip. Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff:
Buried deep in this AP report, between news of a crackdown on al Qaeda in Mosul and a suicide bombing in Baqouba, is Nancy Pelosi’s concession that the surge is succeeding. According to AP, the Speaker, who made a surprise visit to Iraq, “expressed confidence that expected provincial elections will promote national reconciliation.” She also “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”As Abe Greenwald points out, in February Pelosi said that “the purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq; they have not done that.” Since she now finds the government is making the changes that will promote reconciliation, it should follow that, in her estimation, the surge is well on its way to accomplishing its purpose.Perhaps this is the prelude to Pelosi adopting Senator George Aiken’s prescription for Vietnam, “declare victory and leave.” But acknowledging this much progress is dangerous for those who advocate our withdrawal since (a) the public may be less enthusiastic about pulling out entirely if it thinks we’re succeding and (b) in the event of serious deterioration post-withdrawal, it will be clear that we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
We caught a little of that “declare victory and leave” attitude at the Petreaus hearings last March. Barack Obama tried to pin down the General on what the “minimum conditions of security” would be for us to leave. Petreaus was having none of it but that strategy may be in the offing as we head into the fall.
Pelosi is only the latest Democrat to have reality slap them in the face after visiting Iraq. What it means for the mission there remains to be seen.
“Military and intelligence sources believe Iranians were operating at a tactical command level with the Shi’ite militias fighting Iraqi security forces; some were directing operations on the ground, they think.”
“Iran joined militias in battle for Basra,” by Sarah Baxter and Marie Colvin for The Sunday Times:
IRANIAN forces were involved in the recent battle for Basra, General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is expected to tell Congress this week.
Military and intelligence sources believe Iranians were operating at a tactical command level with the Shi’ite militias fighting Iraqi security forces; some were directing operations on the ground, they think. […]
Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric, has called for 1m people to march on Baghdad on Wednesday – the fifth anniversary of the fall of the capital – when Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, will be briefing Congress.
A senior Iraqi official who met Petraeus last week said, “It will be difficult to show that the situation is improving.” Another Iraqi source described the US general as “furious” that al-Maliki moved against the militias into Basra without consultation and had to rely on US forces to bail him out.
Abu Ahmed, a senior military commander with the Awakening, the Sunni tribal movement cooperating with US forces, said progress was largely the result of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army ceasefire.
“When the Mahdi Army decides to resume its activities, neither the American troops nor the Iraqi government will be able to stop it,” he said.
Iranian meddling only complicates that situation. And, lacking the political will to defang and disarm al-Sadr’s militia has so far set the stage for a campaign of half-measures, which has only made al-Sadr appear stronger. We’ll see if that situation changes in the coming days.