Is there really anyone naive enough to be taken in by talk of an American "pullout" from Iraq?  --  When transferring the story to the web, the New York Times discreetly dropped that absurd word -- "pullout" -- which appeared in Tuesday's headline.  --  The article itself explained that President Obama's pronouncements about Iraq are pure politics.[1]  --  Twenty-four hours later, the Times reported what an Iraqi had to say about America that day:  "'The Americans aren’t leaving,' Mr. Sweid insisted, whatever Mr. Obama had promised.  'For one million years, they won’t leave.  Even if the world was turned upside down, they still wouldn’t withdraw.'”[2]  --  On the very day Obama made his statement, "insurgents planted their black flag on Tuesday at a checkpoint they overran by killing the five policemen who staffed it. . . . Three mortars crashed in Baghdad neighborhoods, where five roadside bombs were detonated and two cars were booby-trapped.  Two other mortars fell in the Green Zone . . . By dusk, a car bomb tore through Kut, an eastern town long spared strife. . . . The toll Tuesday -- 26 dead in 8 attacks . . . came amid growing fears that insurgents are regrouping in Baghdad, Diyala, Fallujah, and elsewhere . . . In an attack in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, insurgents in at least two cars assaulted a checkpoint at dawn with pistols fitted with silencers, killing five policemen, then planted their flag before fleeing.  In the car bombing in Kut, the death toll rose to 20 by nightfall."  --  Such is the "great accomplishment" about which FOX News's Op-Ed page told us Tuesday that "American servicemen can take pride in" and that should make us "marvel at the greatness of America."  --  COMMENT:  This is a good occasion to reread the December 2005 Nobel acceptance speech of the late Harold Pinter, in which he said that the U.S. has created a structure of power that inspires a vast indifference:  "It's like pushing against foam rubber," he said, so most people stop pushing.  --  But not Pinter.  --  "What has happened to our moral sensibility?  Did we ever have any?  What do these words mean?  Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days -- conscience?  A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others?  Is all this dead?  --  Pinter's dark meditation arrives at a bleak conclusion, but one not devoid of hope:  "I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all.  It is in fact mandatory.  If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us -- the dignity of man." ...

1.

U.S.

Politics

IN SPEECH ON IRAQ, OBAMA REAFFIRMS DRAWDOWN
(in paper edition: OBAMA REAFFIRMS PULLOUT FROM IRAQ IS ON SCHEDULE, with subtitle: **Combat Mission to End This Month Amid Rising Skepticism on Afghanistan**
By Peter Baker

New York Times

August 3, 2010 (posted Aug. 2)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/us/politics/03prexy.html


ATLANTA -- President Obama  on Monday opened a monthlong drive to mark the end of the combat mission in Iraq and, by extension, to blunt growing public frustration with the war in Afghanistan by arguing that he can also bring that conflict to a conclusion.

The series of events, starting with a speech here to a veterans’ group, puts the president in the thick of a volatile national security debate at a critical moment for both wars as he draws down troops from one theater and sends more to the other.  While seeking to shore up domestic support, he is also defining the limits of his ambitions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama vowed to complete his plan to withdraw designated combat forces from Iraq by the end of August “as promised and on schedule,” even though a political impasse has left Baghdad without the permanent government that his strategy originally envisioned.  At the same time, he vowed to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan while sticking to “clear and achievable” goals rather than aspiring to build a fully functioning democracy.

The president’s renewed public focus on the wars comes after many months in which his domestic agenda was at the center of the national conversation.  But the White House calculated that the drawdown in Iraq and the change in mission there this month provided an opportunity to take credit for fulfilling one of Mr. Obama’s central campaign promises even as war fatigue takes its toll.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Mr. Obama told a convention of the Disabled American Veterans here.  “Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility.  And I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end.  And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.”

The drawdown will bring the American force in Iraq to 50,000 troops by Aug. 31, down from 144,000 when Mr. Obama took office.  The remaining “advise and assist” brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities, and mounting counterterrorism operations.

The mission’s name will change from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, and the 50,000 transitional troops will leave by the end of 2011, according to an agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush and reaffirmed by Mr. Obama.  And addressing the concerns of veterans, Mr. Obama vowed that “your country is going to take care of you when you come home.”

While not the end of the conflict -- at least nine people were killed on Monday in attacks around Iraq -- the transition this month represents a significant milestone after seven years of war that toppled a brutal dictator, touched off waves of sectarian strife, and claimed the lives of more than 4,400 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

In his speech here, Mr. Obama hailed the improved security in Iraq without mentioning that he had opposed the 2007 troop buildup ordered by Mr. Bush, which along with a strategy change, is credited by many with turning the war around.  Mr. Obama has now assigned the architect of that plan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to do the same in Afghanistan.

Republicans were happy to remind Mr. Obama of his opposition to the Iraq buildup, circulating his quotations from the time.  “It’s worth remembering that prior to the full deployment of this force, some Democrats were already declaring the surge the president is referring to today a complete failure,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

Nonetheless, Mr. Obama has adopted Iraq as a relative success story, and aides said he and other administration officials would hold several events in August to honor returning soldiers and promote the drawdown.  The notion that Iraq would be the political selling point while the “good war” in Afghanistan is now the sour note underscores how much has changed since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign.

Christopher Gelpi, a political science professor at Duke University, said Mr. Obama’s challenge is convincing Americans that Afghanistan is a worthy cause even if Iraq was not.  “You may argue this is a good war, but they don’t have any information about it,” he said.  “But they do know about the Iraq war and they’re using that as a lens to interpret Afghanistan.  This creates a big problem for Obama because his core constituents view Iraq negatively.”

The conundrum is that his buildup in Afghanistan is supported more strongly by Republicans than by his own party.  In the House, 102 Democrats voted against a war spending measure last week, 70 more than a year ago.  As a former national security official, who requested anonymity to avoid offending the White House, put it:  “The people who love him don’t support him on Afghanistan, and the people who support him on Afghanistan hate him.”

Moreover, the skepticism on Afghanistan comes at a time when Mr. Obama is weakened politically.  His standing in Georgia is low enough, for example, that former Gov. Roy Barnes, running to reclaim his old office, chose to skip a Democratic fund-raiser starring the president after his speech to the veterans.

The White House used the occasion to argue that Mr. Obama is broadly reducing the American military presence abroad.  A White House fact sheet noted that even with the buildup in Afghanistan, the drawdown in Iraq means the total number of uniformed Americans in the two countries will drop to 146,000 by September, down from 177,000 when he took office.

The president also argued the importance of succeeding in Afghanistan, reminding Americans that it was the home of Al Qaeda when it plotted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  “If Afghanistan were to be engulfed by an even wider insurgency, Al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates would have even more space to plan their next attack,” he said.  “And as president of the United States, I refuse to let that happen.”

But in making his goal the destruction of Al Qaeda, which American intelligence believes has only about 100 members in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama underscored the limits of his commitment.

And he made clear it was not open-ended:  “It’s important that the American people know that we are making progress,” he said, “and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.”

2.

World

Middle East

IRAQIS ARE LESS CERTAIN THAN OBAMA ABOUT END TO THE WAR
(or AS OBAMA TALKS PEACE, MANY IRAQIS ARE UNSURE)
By Anthony Shadid

New York Times

August 4, 2010 (posted Aug. 3)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/world/middleeast/04iraq.html


BAGHDAD --
The morning after President Obama spoke of bringing the war in Iraq to “a responsible end,”  insurgents planted their black flag on Tuesday at a checkpoint they overran by killing the five policemen who staffed it.  It was the second time in a week.

The rest of the day, the police blotter looked like this:  Three mortars crashed in Baghdad neighborhoods, where five roadside bombs were detonated and two cars were booby-trapped.  Two other mortars fell in the Green Zone, still the citadel of power in a barricaded capital and still a target of insurgents who seem bent on proving they were never defeated.

By dusk, a car bomb tore through Kut, an eastern town long spared strife.

“Nothing unusual,” said Murtadha Mohammed, a 20-year-old baker, as he shoveled rolls into bags a short walk from one of the bombs.  “We’ve been raised on this.”

The word “disconnect” never quite captures the gulf in perceptions between two countries whose fate remains reluctantly intertwined, however exhausted each seems of the other.  Moments have come and gone:  transitional governments, declarations of sovereignty, the signing of agreements.  Mr. Obama’s announcement Monday was another.

On Tuesday, Qahtan Sweid greeted it with the cynicism that colors virtually any pronouncement the United States makes here, itself a somewhat intangible but pervasive legacy of seven years of invasion, occupation, war and, now, something harder to define.

“The Americans aren’t leaving,” Mr. Sweid insisted, whatever Mr. Obama had promised.  “For one million years, they won’t leave.  Even if the world was turned upside down, they still wouldn’t withdraw.”

From the first days after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, America and Iraq seemed divided by more than language; they never shared the same vocabulary.  Perhaps they never could, defined as occupier and occupied, where promises of aid and assistance often had the inflection of condescension.  These days, though, they do not even seem to try to listen to each other -- too tired to hear the other, too chastised by experience to offer the benefit of doubt.

In a speech that was admittedly modest, Mr. Obama declared Monday that violence continued to be at the lowest it had been in years.  Iraq is indeed a safer country than it was 2006 and 2007, when carnage threatened to shred the very fabric of its traumatized society.  But security, still elusive here, is an absolute; you either feel safe or you do not.

The toll Tuesday -- 26 dead in 8 attacks -- was not spectacular for Iraq, where hundreds of people still die each month.  But it came amid growing fears that insurgents are regrouping in Baghdad, Diyala, Fallujah, and elsewhere, eager to capitalize on the prospect of American troops leaving and the dysfunction of a political class that has yet to agree on an Iraqi government, nearly five months after the election.

In an attack in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, insurgents in at least two cars assaulted a checkpoint at dawn with pistols fitted with silencers, killing five policemen, then planted their flag before fleeing.  In the car bombing in Kut, the death toll rose to 20 by nightfall.

“Wherever the Americans go, the situation is going to stay the same as it was,” said Abdel-Karim Abdel-Jabbar, a 51-year-old resident of the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, where insurgents overran another checkpoint last week, burning the bodies of their victims and planting the same black banner.  “If anything, it’s going to deteriorate.

“The peace Obama’s talking about is the peace of the Green Zone,” he added.

Across town, in Sadr City, a sprawling district once a battlefield between American troops and followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a populist Shiite cleric, puddles of sewage gathered near a bomb’s debris.

Mr. Sweid nodded.

“If it’s in your hands, then you can go ahead and be scared,” he said over the drone of a generator.  “If it’s in God’s hands, then you have no right to fear.”

In his speech on Monday, Mr. Obama called the Aug. 31 deadline for the military to bring the number of troops down to 50,000 the closing of a chapter.

To an American audience, it might resonate that way.  Less so to Iraqis.  Unlike last year, Iraqi officials, mired in disputes often more personal than political, are not trumpeting the withdrawal as an assertion of an Iraqi authority.  Neither Mr. Sweid nor Mr. Abdel-Jabbar knew about the August deadline.  The same went for several others interviewed Tuesday.

“I don’t know exactly when the withdrawal is supposed to happen,” said Abdel-Hamid Majid, a 52-year-old engineer.  “All I know is it’s not far away.”

Saud al-Saadi, an eloquent and informed teacher in Sadr City, was aware.  But, he said, he had heard such pronouncements before, declarations of turning points in America’s experience here that seemed to hew to the logic of American politics.  The American occupation was declared over before the 2004 presidential election.  The two countries signed strategic agreements weeks before the Bush administration ended.

“But until now, to tell you the truth, we haven’t grasped our sovereignty,” Mr. Saadi said.  “There are still American troops here, they still raid houses, we don’t have a government that makes its own decisions and the American ambassador still interferes.”

Mr. Saadi was neither angry nor disillusioned.  And in his matter-of-fact appraisal, there was a hint of common ground between a teacher and a president.  Mr. Obama did not trumpet democracy or victory.  There was no reference to a mission accomplished.  In a sober appraisal, he acknowledged that there would be more American sacrifice here.

Mr. Saadi was no less modest.

Interests, he called it.  And the United States, he said, would try to secure its own.

“America is not a charity organization,” he said.  “It’s not a humanitarian group.  There are words and there is reality, and actions don’t always match those words.”

--Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.