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Tuesday, July 22

Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan -- and welcome to our world, Andrea Mitchell (UPDATED 2X - see 7:05 PM ET)

Dear BR:
Would you get a grip because if you don't Barack Obama and his media flunkies are going to drive you crazy. For the last time: Nothing has changed on the ground with regard to the issue of U.S. withdrawal troops from Iraq since my Ping Pong post on July 8.

In fact nothing had changed about the issue since even before the report I cited. Things have been the same since General Petraeus took over command in Iraq. Things will remain the same, at least until he makes his report in September, which will be based on not only the assessments of US commanders in Iraq but also those of Iraqi military commanders.

So all that has changed are choices of words. As reported in the July 8 post the word "treaty" was ditched in favor of “memorandum of understanding,” which “has the same spirit” as the treaty being drafted -- and re-drafted and re-drafted -- between Iraq and the U.S.

The word game was to throw red meat at Moqtada al-Sadr and his minions and masters in Iran, who want the U.S. out of Iraq yesterday. The somewhat silly hope was that shuffling words around might temporarily stop Mookie & Co. from chewing up Nouri al-Maliki.

Then, on July 18, Amer Moshen at Iraq Slogger reported on the latest word game:
Az-Zaman reported on the latest Iraqi-US negotiations regarding a “security agreement” between the two countries. According to Western reports, Az-Zaman said, Iraqi demands for a withdrawal timetable for US forces will likely be replaced with a timetable for “troop reduction” in Iraq. [emphasis mine]

Pro-government papers seemed to confirm these reports, with an al-Mada front-pager claiming that negotiations now center on “preludes for the reduction, and later on, the withdrawal, of American forces.”

Such an agreement would clearly fall below the expectations of government figures, who hoped for an arrangement that would end – even if in a matter of years -- with a full US withdrawal, and defended their strategy of negotiations based on that principle.

As al-Mada’s piece showed, however, even a face-saving “timetable for troops reduction” could be painted as a victory for the current government. But popular discontent with the negotiations, already at a high despite promises of US withdrawal commitments, is now likely to grow.

As an example, al-Hayat published an attack on the prospective treaty by the Islamic Army (a Sunni insurgent faction), which claimed that the US “wants to impose an agreement of humiliation and submission” upon Iraqis. The Islamic Army statement -– typically -- doubted the capacity of “those appointed by the US” to negotiate on behalf of the Iraqi state. Now, if Maliki is unable to promise Iraqis “full liberation,” the popular view vis-à-vis the treaty is likely to worsen.
(But remember it's not a treaty, it's a memorandum of understanding.)

So how does all that square with Maliki's statement to Germany's der Spiegel (published on July 19) that he agreed with Obama's timetable of 16 months for troop withdrawal? And the controversy that arose from the statement? And the somewhat different reports on what Maliki's spokesperson said after Obama's meeting with Maliki on July 21? Regarding the latter:
[...] According to Reuters [Ali al-Dabbagh] said, “We cannot give any timetables or dates but the Iraqi government believes the end of 2010 is the appropriate time for the withdrawal.”

The Associated Press quoted Mr. Dabbagh as saying, “We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq,” but noting that any plans would have to change should violence rise.[...]
The answer is first that Maliki's statement to der Spiegel was almost assuredly properly translated, despite his protests to the contrary after State went through the roof.

Second and more importantly: everything that's been said by Maliki and his spokespersons in recent days with regard to timetables has to be viewed against the backdrop of Iraq politics.

Recently a serious issue arose for Maliki and his government when it became clear that because of the Parliament's foot-dragging, the planned October provincial and local elections would have to be pushed to the end of the year -- and maybe even later, because of unresolved legalities.

The delay, coming on top of the controversy about the treaty -- er, memorandum of understanding -- means that Maliki is feeling the heat. Into that situation walked Barack Obama, who was seized on by Maliki as more red meat to hurl at Mookie.

In summary Obama fell into the role of useful idiot, which was okay with him because the statements from Maliki made him look good in the media.

He knew that the journalists reporting on his tour were poorly informed about the currents and eddies of Iraqi politics, and that any exceptions among the press corps following him around would not be inclined to rain on his parade. Not if they wanted to keep a seat on his plane.

With regard to the statement you heard on a news outlet that Petraeus "agreed" with Obama that al Qaeda in Iraq was retreating to Afghanistan, that is not exactly what Petraeus said, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff:
CHRIS WALLACE [FOX News]: [...] Petraeus, still the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq but headed on to become central commander, says that Al Qaida may no longer consider Iraq the front line in the war on terror and may, in fact, be shifting some of its foreign fighters from Iraq to Afghanistan. Do you see that shift?

MIKE MULLEN: I think he also said that there’s no firm evidence of that yet. In my trip there week before last, certainly the whole issue of the FATA and the safe havens for foreign fighters, for Al Qaida, for Taliban and the insurgents that are now freely — much more freely able to come across the borders — a big challenge for all of us.
I suggest you study the entire interview, which was aired July 20, and which goes into detail about the question of a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Refer to the interview whenever you're spooked by reports about the situation.

As to your question about the media and Barack Obama, I've received a couple questions in a similar vein so before I go on leave I'll finish a post I started more than a month ago, and get it up by Saturday. Then I'm gone from the blogosphere until September.

For the nonce: It could be that no matter what their political bias that professional pride may be causing journalists with a good reputation to chafe at playing the fool to Obama's media manipulation techniques -- or George Soros's techniques, as the case may be.

I make this observation based on strong remarks that Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC News, made to Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball on July 21. She observed in part:
[...] MITCHELL: Let me just say something about the message management. [Obama] didn't have reporters with him, he didn't have a press pool, he didn't do a press conference while he was on the ground in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

What you're seeing is not reporters brought in. You're seeing selected pictures taken by the military, questions by the military, and what some would call fake interviews, because they're not interviews from a journalist. So, there's a real press issue here.

Politically it's smart as can be. But we've not seen a presidential candidate do this, in my recollection, ever before.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about access to the troops, Andrea. A lot of African-American faces over there, very happy, delighted faces. Is that a representation of the percentage of service people who are African-American, or did they all choose to join someone they like, apparently? What's the story?

MITCHELL: I can't really say that. Being a reporter who was not present in any of those situations, I just cannot report on what was edited out, what was, you know, on the sidelines. That's my issue. We don't know what we are seeing.
Welcome to the club, Ms Mitchell.

For many months, many bloggers have been jumping up and down and yelling and screaming that the news media have been putting on a magic show instead of reporting on Obama and his campaign.

(See the full report at News Busters, which also has the video of Mitchell's conversation with Matthews.)
This afternoon Merry at RBO (The Real Barack Obama) posted an entry titled What does Chalabi want from Obama? Merry explores Eli Lake's report for today's New York Sun about Ahmad Chalabi's role in prodding Malki to endorse Obama's 16 month timetable for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Merry's entry also returns to one her posts of yesterday, which points up:
[...] "the obvious irony that one of the three Iraqi officials with whom Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) met while “making the rounds in Baghdad” was Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who had served on the Iraqi Governing Council, appointed July 13, 2003, by Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator L. Paul Bremer, with Sen. Obama’s fellow Chicagoan, former Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Aiham Alsammarae, who was convicted in an Iraqi court in October 2006 in the theft of at least $650 million in Iraqi reconstruction dollars (i.e. U.S. tax dollars); who had contributed to Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign fund; and who put up three of his properties as surety for Obama political patron and convicted political fixer -- and Obama’s personal real estate fairy -- Antoin “Tony” Rezko’s bond this past spring.

The media, it appears, chooses either to be, or pretend to be, unaware of the irony.

Well, there is another member from Alsammarae’s days with the first Iraqi Governing Council in 2003 who has played a role in Sen. Obama’s “visit” to Iraq -- Ahmad Chalabi, who served as Deputy Prime Minister until his fall from grace in May 2004.
There are lots more depressing facts at both links. Barack Obama's old buddies are quite a cast of characters. If you're not reading RBO every day there's no way you can keep up with all the twists and turns of Barack Obama's colorful career in Chicago and how it all intersects with his run for the presidency.

And now we have the fun of contemplating Chalabi as an Obama booster.

Chalabi, by the way, is seriously ticked off at Washington -- again. May 14, 2008 NBC:
Sources in Baghdad tell NBC News that as of this week American military and civilian officials have cut off all contact with controversial Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi [...] The reason, the sources say, is "unauthorized" contacts with Iran's government, an allegation Chalabi denies. Iran has been accused of arming and training rebel Shiite forces in Iraq.

Chalabi had been making a remarkable comeback in Iraq, but that may now be in question, American officials tell NBC News on condition of anonymity.
If you ask why in the Sam Hill it took this long to cut off ties with Chalabi, who has been accused by various quarters of too-close involvement with Tehran since as early as 2003 -- it's been an on-again, off-again affair between Chalabi and US officials.
Since September 2007 [...] American military officials and civilian officials working out of the U.S. Embassy had contacts with Chalabi. At that time he was installed as the head of a "services" committee for Baghdad that was to coordinate the restoration of services to the city's residents.[...]
This entry is cross-posted at RBO.
Stop, Merry! I can't take any more Obama antics in one day! This just in from RBO:
[...]Obama “believes the survival of US combat forces in Kurdistan does not pose any real danger to the lives of US troops and therefore it would be appropriate to redeploy US troops there in the future.”

So, you ask, what’s the deal with Kurdistan? Well, it just so happens that Chamchamal in Northern Kurdistan is the location chosen in 2003 for a power plant by convicted political fixer—and Obama political patron and personal real estate fairy—Antoin “Tony” Rezko and his partner, former Minister of Electricity Aiham Alsammarae who was convicted October 2006 in an Iraqi court for the theft of $650 million in Iraqi reconstruction funds.
Let me out, let me out! Oh but that's right, there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
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