Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iraqi parliament

Morning Commentary

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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Belgium and Baghdad

This Fareed Zakaria column complaining about the slowness of political progress in Iraq put me to mind of this article I read last week about Belgium.

What’s the connection between a small, stable democracy in Europe and a big, unstable proto-democracy in the Middle East? It may not be obvious at first glance. But it seems that not so far beneath Belgium’s placid surface lurks some major discord. In fact, it has taken Belgian politicians nine months since the last general election to finally settle on a new prime minister. That is largely due to frictions between the Francophone majority and the Fleming minority.

As the Financial Times reports:

These frictions between the country’s regions were at the heart of an embarrassing 192-day political impasse after the election. At the height of the post-poll deadlock, the longest in the country’s history, there were fears that Belgium might even split in two.

If even boring old Belgium finds it hard to reach an amicable accord between differing ethnic groups, imagine how much harder the task is in Iraq, where it’s literally a matter of life or death. Zakaria is right that ethno-sectarian tensions remain a major problem in Iraq, though I think he is wrong to say that the situation has “not improved much.” While he can quibble about the details, there is no doubt that the Iraqi parliament has passed some important reconciliation laws. Even without the passage of a hydrocarbon law, moreover, the central government still manages to share oil revenues with the provinces (though it’s true that government at all levels has problems actually spending its money).

And then there is undeniable fact that some 90,000 men, mainly Sunnis, have joined the Concerned Local Citizens groups to protect their neighborhoods against terrorists. There is no question that tensions linger between these groups and the Shiite-dominated central government. But the situation is still much better than it was a year or two ago when many of the CLC members were actively fighting against the government and its American protectors.

Zakaria is undoubtedly right that even in a best-case scenario, Iraq will require a long-term presence of Americans “in the loop” in order to safeguard the very tenuous progress being made toward a modus vivendi among the competing factions. But that beats the alternative, which is an all-out civil war. The experience of Belgium should make us realize how much patience is required when dealing with deep-rooted tensions and how agonizingly slow political progress can be. That is not, however, an argument for throwing up our hands in despair, as the Democratic presidential candidates seem to be doing.

This Fareed Zakaria column complaining about the slowness of political progress in Iraq put me to mind of this article I read last week about Belgium.

What’s the connection between a small, stable democracy in Europe and a big, unstable proto-democracy in the Middle East? It may not be obvious at first glance. But it seems that not so far beneath Belgium’s placid surface lurks some major discord. In fact, it has taken Belgian politicians nine months since the last general election to finally settle on a new prime minister. That is largely due to frictions between the Francophone majority and the Fleming minority.

As the Financial Times reports:

These frictions between the country’s regions were at the heart of an embarrassing 192-day political impasse after the election. At the height of the post-poll deadlock, the longest in the country’s history, there were fears that Belgium might even split in two.

If even boring old Belgium finds it hard to reach an amicable accord between differing ethnic groups, imagine how much harder the task is in Iraq, where it’s literally a matter of life or death. Zakaria is right that ethno-sectarian tensions remain a major problem in Iraq, though I think he is wrong to say that the situation has “not improved much.” While he can quibble about the details, there is no doubt that the Iraqi parliament has passed some important reconciliation laws. Even without the passage of a hydrocarbon law, moreover, the central government still manages to share oil revenues with the provinces (though it’s true that government at all levels has problems actually spending its money).

And then there is undeniable fact that some 90,000 men, mainly Sunnis, have joined the Concerned Local Citizens groups to protect their neighborhoods against terrorists. There is no question that tensions linger between these groups and the Shiite-dominated central government. But the situation is still much better than it was a year or two ago when many of the CLC members were actively fighting against the government and its American protectors.

Zakaria is undoubtedly right that even in a best-case scenario, Iraq will require a long-term presence of Americans “in the loop” in order to safeguard the very tenuous progress being made toward a modus vivendi among the competing factions. But that beats the alternative, which is an all-out civil war. The experience of Belgium should make us realize how much patience is required when dealing with deep-rooted tensions and how agonizingly slow political progress can be. That is not, however, an argument for throwing up our hands in despair, as the Democratic presidential candidates seem to be doing.

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Big News from Baghdad

ABC News’ Clarissa Ward reports that:

If you’re looking for one measure of the impact of last year’s troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It’s been one year since the beginning of what’s known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.

“A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot.” Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. “The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before,” a mechanic named Ali said. “Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes.” Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. “We have very little electricity,” Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. “That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems,” Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.

“I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment.” he said.

A potentially big moment indeed. We are now seeing extraordinary security gains from the last year translate into both political reconciliation and legislative progress. Within the last week the Iraqi parliament passed key laws having to do with provincial elections (the law devolves power to the local level in a decentralization system that is groundbreaking for the region), the distribution of resources, and amnesty. And those laws follow ones passed in recent months having to do with pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard that “the whole motivating factor” beyond the legislation was “reconciliation, not retribution.” This is “remarkably different” from six months ago, according to the widely respected, straight-talking Crocker.

Progress in Iraq means life is getting progressively more difficult for Democrats and their two presidential front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having strongly opposed the surge, Obama and Clinton have been forced by events to concede that security progress has been made. But until now they have insisted that the surge is a failure because we’re not seeing political progress. That claim is now being shattered.

Soon Obama and Clinton will have no argument left to justify their position on Iraq. It will become increasingly clear that they are committed to leaving Iraq simply because they are committed to leaving Iraq, regardless of the awful consequences that would follow. It is an amazing thing to witness: two leading presidential candidates who are committed to engineering an American retreat, which would lead to an American defeat, despite the progress we are making on every conceivable front.

At the end of the day, this position will hurt Democrats badly, because their position will hurt America badly.

ABC News’ Clarissa Ward reports that:

If you’re looking for one measure of the impact of last year’s troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It’s been one year since the beginning of what’s known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.

“A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot.” Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. “The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before,” a mechanic named Ali said. “Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes.” Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. “We have very little electricity,” Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. “That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems,” Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.

“I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment.” he said.

A potentially big moment indeed. We are now seeing extraordinary security gains from the last year translate into both political reconciliation and legislative progress. Within the last week the Iraqi parliament passed key laws having to do with provincial elections (the law devolves power to the local level in a decentralization system that is groundbreaking for the region), the distribution of resources, and amnesty. And those laws follow ones passed in recent months having to do with pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard that “the whole motivating factor” beyond the legislation was “reconciliation, not retribution.” This is “remarkably different” from six months ago, according to the widely respected, straight-talking Crocker.

Progress in Iraq means life is getting progressively more difficult for Democrats and their two presidential front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having strongly opposed the surge, Obama and Clinton have been forced by events to concede that security progress has been made. But until now they have insisted that the surge is a failure because we’re not seeing political progress. That claim is now being shattered.

Soon Obama and Clinton will have no argument left to justify their position on Iraq. It will become increasingly clear that they are committed to leaving Iraq simply because they are committed to leaving Iraq, regardless of the awful consequences that would follow. It is an amazing thing to witness: two leading presidential candidates who are committed to engineering an American retreat, which would lead to an American defeat, despite the progress we are making on every conceivable front.

At the end of the day, this position will hurt Democrats badly, because their position will hurt America badly.

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McCain Blogger Call

John McCain just completed another blogger conference call. He began by saying he was pleased with the results last night (and pointed out that despite bad weather in Northern Virginia the final tabulation showed he won the state by 9 points and won among conservatives, although not “very conservative” voters). He stressed, as he did repeatedly during the call, that he respected Governor Huckabee and was not going to pressure him out the race. He also reported that he had completed a positive meeting with the GOP House conference and the leadership had endorsed him following the meeting. He emphasized (and repeated during the call) that he understood the importance of uniting the party and is “confident that we will.” He reiterated that he would make the differences between him and his eventual opponent on taxes, government regulation, healthcare and especially on Iraq clear. (He mentioned the recent actions by the Iraqi Parliament and said that the same people who said the surge would not work also said that the Iraqi’s could not make progress in governing themselves and that they were “wrong on both counts, on both counts.” He tried out perhaps a new catch phrase, explaining he will be happy to “draw differences on principles, philosophy and specifics and not platitudes.”

I asked him about Barack Obama’s votes on Iraq and on FISA and his endorsement by MoveOn.org and what that said about his readiness to be commander in chief. He declined to say that Obama lacked the judgment to be president but said Obama was wrong on toop withdrawal, the ability of the Iraqi government to function and on the surge, saying “we’ll all be responsible for our record.” (He also reminded everyone that the same MoveOn.org which endorsed Obama had run the “General Betray- us” ad.) On FISA, he said that the telecom companies “of course” would expect immunity for assisting the government in the war on terror.

Other highlights: 1) He has not begun the VP selection process but did praise Senator Tom Coburn and Governor Mark Sanford (without acknowledging they are on a short list) as two excellent conservatives; 2) In the strongest terms I have heard he endorsed the legal system in place for the 6 Guantanamo terrorists and declared that nothing in the Geneva Convention or our experience with the World War II war crime trials suggested these people were entitled to the same legal protections as U.S. citizens; and 3) repeated his determination to eliminate earmarks, although offered to work with members of Congress on how to phase them out.

Overall, this was one of his more impressive calls. His tone was calm and confident, his rhetoric in taking on the Democrats more forceful than it has been. You can slowly sense that he is doing his level best to transition from maverick to nominee and party leader.

John McCain just completed another blogger conference call. He began by saying he was pleased with the results last night (and pointed out that despite bad weather in Northern Virginia the final tabulation showed he won the state by 9 points and won among conservatives, although not “very conservative” voters). He stressed, as he did repeatedly during the call, that he respected Governor Huckabee and was not going to pressure him out the race. He also reported that he had completed a positive meeting with the GOP House conference and the leadership had endorsed him following the meeting. He emphasized (and repeated during the call) that he understood the importance of uniting the party and is “confident that we will.” He reiterated that he would make the differences between him and his eventual opponent on taxes, government regulation, healthcare and especially on Iraq clear. (He mentioned the recent actions by the Iraqi Parliament and said that the same people who said the surge would not work also said that the Iraqi’s could not make progress in governing themselves and that they were “wrong on both counts, on both counts.” He tried out perhaps a new catch phrase, explaining he will be happy to “draw differences on principles, philosophy and specifics and not platitudes.”

I asked him about Barack Obama’s votes on Iraq and on FISA and his endorsement by MoveOn.org and what that said about his readiness to be commander in chief. He declined to say that Obama lacked the judgment to be president but said Obama was wrong on toop withdrawal, the ability of the Iraqi government to function and on the surge, saying “we’ll all be responsible for our record.” (He also reminded everyone that the same MoveOn.org which endorsed Obama had run the “General Betray- us” ad.) On FISA, he said that the telecom companies “of course” would expect immunity for assisting the government in the war on terror.

Other highlights: 1) He has not begun the VP selection process but did praise Senator Tom Coburn and Governor Mark Sanford (without acknowledging they are on a short list) as two excellent conservatives; 2) In the strongest terms I have heard he endorsed the legal system in place for the 6 Guantanamo terrorists and declared that nothing in the Geneva Convention or our experience with the World War II war crime trials suggested these people were entitled to the same legal protections as U.S. citizens; and 3) repeated his determination to eliminate earmarks, although offered to work with members of Congress on how to phase them out.

Overall, this was one of his more impressive calls. His tone was calm and confident, his rhetoric in taking on the Democrats more forceful than it has been. You can slowly sense that he is doing his level best to transition from maverick to nominee and party leader.

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A Race to the Bottom

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

Read More

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

The top three Democratic contenders for President, however, see things quite differently. During last night’s debate in Las Vegas, they were asked about Iraq. One might have hoped that the events of the last year and of the last week might lead them to reassess their unbending commitment to prematurely withdraw American troops from Iraq. One might have hoped that new evidence would lead them to draw new conclusions and draw up new plans.

Not a chance.

Last night Senator Obama proudly declared, “I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.” He added, “My first job as president of the United States is going to be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, you’ve got a new mission, and that is to responsibly, carefully but deliberately start to phase out our involvement there, and to make sure that we are putting the onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to do to arrive at peace… I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there—I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions.”

Senator Clinton put it this way: “I’m on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.”

And John Edwards, never to be outdone when it comes to embracing an irresponsible policy, said this: “I think I’ve actually, among the three of us, been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president of the United States. I will end combat missions and while I’m president, there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.”

No combat troops, no permanent bases, no nothing. The Democratic position seems to be that we will simply wipe our hands of this unpopular war, come what may.

What is completely missing from the Democratic stance is the importance, and even the possibility, of a decent outcome in Iraq. One increasingly gets the sense that they view progress in Iraq as an annoyance, something that may prove to be an obstacle to their efforts. More and more Obama, Clinton, Edwards and their allies on Capitol Hill appear as if they are characters in the movie Ground Hog Day. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, they find themselves stuck in time. But Democrats find themselves stuck not on a particular day but in a particular year, 2006—and they are seemingly unable or unwilling to process the progress we have seen in 2007. They cannot even entertain the possibility that a nation that was in a death spiral is not being reconstituted.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are in a state of denial—and their apparently willingness, and even eagerness, to undermine all we have achieved in Iraq in order to maintain an ideological commitment is intellectually dishonest and reckless. If a Democrat wins in November, the best we can hope for is that the positions they are espousing now are merely cynical and not serious. We should be able to hope for more.

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If I Were an Iraqi Politician . . .

Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

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Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

If that’s likely to happen soon, what incentive do Iraqi politicians have to make concessions today to their mortal enemies? If they think the U.S. is seeking an exit strategy, they are far more likely to hunker down, keep their powder dry, and grab every advantage they can in order to give themselves an edge in the coming struggle.

Conversely, if Iraqis think that U.S. troops are in it for the long haul, they will become far less dependent on militias and may be willing to make the compromises necessary for national reconciliation. If U.S. troops, working with Iraqi forces, succeed in blunting the power of the extremist militias, this may create some breathing room for moderate political elements—and they do exist—to come to the fore. Chaos in the streets favors thugs like Moqtada al Sadr. If we can impose a period of calm, it might allow moderates like Ayatollah Sistani to reassert their influence.

In other words, the best bet for getting important legislation through the Iraqi parliament is to stick with General David Petraeus’s security plan. But the Democrats are undermining that plan with their calls for troop withdrawal. Even if American troops make gains on the ground in the next few months, it will be hard to convince most Iraqis to put their faith in the coalition and government forces as long as the message emanating from Washington is that our troops are about to head home.

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