Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Obama speaks, but Iraq is still there

It was an ambitious speech that President Obama delivered last night — not just about Iraq, but also Afghanistan and the economy. I thought it amounted to a defense of his presidency. He continues to strike me as a guy who thought he was elected for domestic reasons and so seems to resent how foreign ...

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It was an ambitious speech that President Obama delivered last night — not just about Iraq, but also Afghanistan and the economy. I thought it amounted to a defense of his presidency. He continues to strike me as a guy who thought he was elected for domestic reasons and so seems to resent how foreign affairs intrude on his time. His rhetoric on the two subjects has the feel of two different men — on foreign policy, kind of tired and clichéd, written by a committee, but on domestic affairs, kind of zingy. 

As he said in the speech, he was fulfilling a campaign pledge to get all combat troops out of Iraq by today. Unfortunately, it was a phony pledge — the mission of the U.S. troops still in Iraq is, if anything, more dangerous today than it was yesterday. And so the core of the speech was hollow.

Meanwhile, in the under-reported Iraq story of the month, the Iraqi army chief of staff said the U.S. military needs to stay in Iraq for another decade. “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: “the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” said Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari.

And in the second most under-reported story of the month, here is a comment from an Iraqi politician, quoted by the awesome Anthony Shadid of the New York Times:

A leading politician related a recent conversation he had with a top Iraqi general. The politician asked about the possibility of a coup. The general, he said, deeming the talk serious, pulled out a map of the capital and provided a disconcertingly elaborate plan to execute one: overturning trucks to block the route from the main American base to the Green Zone, seizing television stations, besieging Parliament, and so on.

Meanwhile, old Reidar Visser continues to produce some of the most insightful analyses of Iraqi politics. I first came across him three or so years ago when a member of Petraeus’s staff said, “Don’t ask me! If you want to understand Basra, read Reidar Visser.”

And Anne Applebaum had a good piece on the long-term costs of the Iraq war, but loses points for concluding with the tired anecdote about Chou En Lai saying it is too early to tell on the French revolution.

It was an ambitious speech that President Obama delivered last night — not just about Iraq, but also Afghanistan and the economy. I thought it amounted to a defense of his presidency. He continues to strike me as a guy who thought he was elected for domestic reasons and so seems to resent how foreign affairs intrude on his time. His rhetoric on the two subjects has the feel of two different men — on foreign policy, kind of tired and clichéd, written by a committee, but on domestic affairs, kind of zingy. 

As he said in the speech, he was fulfilling a campaign pledge to get all combat troops out of Iraq by today. Unfortunately, it was a phony pledge — the mission of the U.S. troops still in Iraq is, if anything, more dangerous today than it was yesterday. And so the core of the speech was hollow.

Meanwhile, in the under-reported Iraq story of the month, the Iraqi army chief of staff said the U.S. military needs to stay in Iraq for another decade. “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: “the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” said Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari.

And in the second most under-reported story of the month, here is a comment from an Iraqi politician, quoted by the awesome Anthony Shadid of the New York Times:

A leading politician related a recent conversation he had with a top Iraqi general. The politician asked about the possibility of a coup. The general, he said, deeming the talk serious, pulled out a map of the capital and provided a disconcertingly elaborate plan to execute one: overturning trucks to block the route from the main American base to the Green Zone, seizing television stations, besieging Parliament, and so on.

Meanwhile, old Reidar Visser continues to produce some of the most insightful analyses of Iraqi politics. I first came across him three or so years ago when a member of Petraeus’s staff said, “Don’t ask me! If you want to understand Basra, read Reidar Visser.”

And Anne Applebaum had a good piece on the long-term costs of the Iraq war, but loses points for concluding with the tired anecdote about Chou En Lai saying it is too early to tell on the French revolution.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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