Obama with General David Petraeus
The welcome tone of pragmatism that President Obama conveyed during his transition and in his inaugural address seemed to carry over, during his first day in office, to one of the issues for which he will most need it: Iraq. Fulfilling an oft-stated campaign promise, the new president met with his defense secretary and senior military commanders and, according to a statement he issued, asked for “additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq.”
Accounts of the meeting suggested that Obama spent much of the time listening to reports from those who know Iraq best — Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. In addition, the president’s statement did not cite the 16-month withdrawal timetable that became one of the signal slogans of his campaign — though his spokesman mentioned it. We hope that’s evidence that Obama will not repeat one of President Bush’s greatest mistakes — allowing ideological and political considerations to trump good military judgment.
There is broad agreement in Washington and Baghdad that U.S. troops should gradually be withdrawn, consistent with the goal of preserving Iraq’s fragile and relative peace. Late last year, the outgoing administration concluded a formal agreement with the Iraqi government, laying out a plan for redeploying and withdrawing U.S. troops over the next three years. Both Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders have made clear that they do not believe a pullout of all combat forces in 16 months is compatible with that strategy, and some U.S. officers have questioned whether, in purely logistical terms, it could be safely accomplished.
Odierno, who commands U.S. forces in Iraq, reportedly favors only a modest drawdown of troops this year, when Iraq will be staging two crucial elections and trying to resolve still-volatile questions of how to divide territory and power among regions and sectarian groups. The prospect of American forces leaving at the rate of a brigade a month, as required by a 16-month timetable, is regarded by leading Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians as a potential catastrophe — though their public statements sometimes suggest otherwise.
Wednesday’s briefing should have underlined those facts for Obama, if he did not know them already. The president can certainly be expected to press for the quickest U.S. withdrawal that logistics and conditions in Iraq will allow. But Iraq’s continuing improvement and the low and declining rate of U.S. casualties — four soldiers have been killed in hostile action so far this month — ought to decrease the urgency of a quick pullout. Pragmatism calls for working within the agreed U.S.-Iraqi plan, and for allowing adjustments based on positive and negative developments in Iraq, rather than on any fixed and arbitrary timetable.
A soldier on patrol in Afghanistan last week. Up to 30,000 more US troops may be sent in by the summer
Is Afghanistan going to be Obama’s Iraq?
The arrival of American reinforcements in southern Afghanistan is likely to mean that, as in Iraq, the British will play a more subordinate role. Since they arrived three years ago in Helmand, the country’s largest province and main heroin producer, British troops have never been deployed in sufficient numbers to gain control of more than a small central area around the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Now the main British base, Camp Bastion, is preparing to receive an influx of US troops.
Command of Afghanistan’s southern military region used to rotate among Britain, Canada and the Netherlands. But with the arrival of some 20,000 US troops, doubling the present international deployment, an American major-general will take over a tighter command structure. US officers regard the current situation as a stalemate, with Nato forces until now having been too thinly spread to do more than hold their ground. They expect that to change once the reinforcements are in place.
Mr Langton of the IISS said some British officers welcomed a more unified command structure, in which they would work more closely with American commanders, but it could appear to the public at home that the British force had not succeeded in its mission. This he blamed on the Ministry of Defence, which he said had made no effort to explain what British troops were doing in Afghanistan, “when in fact this is a positive development which could have a dramatic effect on the counter-insurgency campaign”.
Rusi’s Mr Smyth, who is preparing a study of the Taliban’s progress in 2008, said its greatest success had been in “creating the impression it did well”. Despite a high rate of attacks, he said the Taliban was NOT “a homogenous, unified group whose ability to cause violence extends across the country”.
Letter: Bush will be remembered like Lincoln
I am writing about a former president. He had a low approval from some because his presidency was during an unpopular war. He was re-elected for his second term when he ran against a Democrat with military experience. When things weren’t going so well during the war, he changed direction, and generals, and things improved. Some say he abused civil rights and the Constitution, but he did things he felt were right for the country. He imprisoned war combatants and sympathizers without trial. Let’s face it, he was a soft spoken Republican President during tough times.
If it sounds like I am inferring to George W. Bush, well, you could be right. But actually the above paragraph describes our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. He won his re-election vs. Gen. George McClellan (D) as Bush beat Lt. John Kerry (D). The Civil War started turning for the better when Lincoln inserted Gen. U.S. Grant, as things did for Bush when he inserted Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq. Bush strengthened the role of the chief executive for which our Sen. Russ Feingold called for his censure. (That idea floated like it was tied to an engine block.) Lincoln suspended habeus corpus and actually jailed some anti-war Democrats for impeding the war effort, something I think President Bush should have implemented.
For those who celebrate what they think is the demise of the Republican Party due to the last elections, keep in mind that Democrats have a tendency to over-reach. Yes, we now have our first black president, who was elected for “diversity” more than anything else. President Obama has invoked the name Lincoln during many of his speeches, but the only thing they have in common is that both are from the same state. Lincoln was the first Republican president and he fought southern Democrats to end slavery in this country. The party itself was born in Wisconsin and still believes that all men are created equal, and in smaller government, lower taxes and a strong defense.
Soon Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday will be upon us. I would like to say Happy Birthday to him and thank you, and farewell to George W. Bush, for they both served their country and the American people in a time of need.
According to GEN David Petraeus, the situation in Afghanistan is very different than that in Iraq. He said a carefully designed approach must be appropriate for the specific situation. See more DoD videos at http://dodvclips.mil
Phil Berg Barack Obama Ron Polarik Jeff Schreiber