Obama to Address the Nation on Iraq Tonight

Obama entering the Oval Office, pre-carpet change. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The media has had a field day with stories on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq today on the eve of Obama’s address to the nation in the Oval Office (with a new carpet I hear).

The Council on Foreign Relations produced a nice time line and multimedia presentation of the progression of the Iraq War since 2003. Seriously, a gorgeous and cohesive presentation for those who haven’t been following news from Iraq since the Bush Administration.

The Weekly Standard published a story by William Kristol urging Obama to address Iraq not as a candidate campaigning for Presidency, but as the commander-in-chief who needs to execute this carefully:

“So my sincere hope—and it is sincere, with no political agenda (for what it’s worth, I think following the advice I’m about to give would help you politically)—is that you don’t begin your remarks tomorrow night, as you did your weekly address Saturday, by taking credit for fulfilling a campaign promise. Your oath as president was to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and it is in that capacity that you now make foreign policy judgments, not as a former candidate keeping well- or ill-considered campaign promises.”

Laura Rozen, on the other hand, discussed Obama’s fulfilled promises with Iraq when he said he would refocus on Afghanistan and turn Iraq from a combat strategy to a diplomatic initiative. The promises kept, however, will be overshadowed by the still unstable Iraqi state, increasing violence and our wars in other parts of the Middle East.

“The still-unsettled Iraqi state also complicates matters for Obama; while avoiding Bush’s famous “mission accomplished” declaration, the president must nevertheless signal a satisfactory conclusion to the second-longest war in American history,” she writes quoting Abby Phillip of POLITICO.

Reports have also already indicated that the GOP leader has issued a pre-rebuttal of Obama’s speech (not too surprising since a transcript of his speech is probably circulating newsrooms as we speak). The reports say that Repubicans think success in Iraq has come “in spite” of Obama.

Countless other reports have been issued today, but I’m curious to see if this speech will be meaty or simply statements saying that we are staying the course and support our troops.

During Obama’s speech at Fort Bliss this afternoon, he stressed the importance of careful security training in Iraq in light of recent violence.

“The work that continues is absolutely critical, providing training and assistance to Iraqi security forces, because there’s still violence in Iraq and they’re still learning how to secure their country the way they need to. And they’ve made enormous strides, thanks to the training that they’ve already received,” he said.

U.S. Major General Steven Lanza, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, spoke to Reuters in Bagdad today and reassured the public that Iraqi forces are capable of securing the state despite the struggle ahead.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, there is still challenges to be met in the future, there is still be some violence, but again, the quicker the government get seated, that is the most important factor in mitigated the violence,” he said.

On the other hand, a report from RFE/RL indicates that the Iraqi people are worried of the U.S. withdrawal and could feel abandoned in a time of need.

“What they are leaving in Iraq is democracy only, while there is no security, no stability, no services and, in fact, nothing at all but that ‘democracy’ they say they applied. We are not really gaining a lot from their presence here, but maybe if they stayed longer, it would be better,” said one Iraqi woman.
“[President Obama] made the promise to his people that he would withdraw on a certain day and date, and he did it. But he left Iraq in a difficult situation, also in difficult political situation. Things are not good. He should have kept his promise to the Iraqi people they way he did to the American people,” said another Iraqi man.

I’m more interested to see how journalists on the ground in Iraq, soldiers and civilians will react to Obama’s speech. I also am curious to see if the withdrawal will lead to neighboring forces invading or launching their own attacks. Only time will tell. In the meatime, I’ll be watching tonight.

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Progress in Afghanistan: Will the U.S. Strategy Succeed?

Many apologies for the delayed posts. August is a bit of a lazy month in Washington–especially in terms of the Hill and think tanks. This week, there weren’t too many events to cover, seeing as Obama has been on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. Next week, we kick things off with some action in the Middle East–Obama is set to start peace talks again b/w Palestine and Israel, and he’s going to make a big speech on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Brookings held an interesting discussion on success in Afghanistan from the perspective of a former Pakistani general and a State Department official. Also, one of my favorite speakers on foreign policy, Steve Coll, spoke at the widely-attended event.

Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, said that the U.S. has had more success in Pakistan because the interactions have been between the two governments with limited military and civilian interaction. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been accused of causing high numbers of civilian causalities and not mingling well with the Afghans who either see the troops as saviors or invaders.

“Overall, we are doing well. The strategy is still moving forward,” he said. “we’re seeing much more impact of our efforts to change our relationship with Pakistan.”

This assessment came around the same time that reports were released of Taliban members plotting to attack aid workers who are assisting in flood relief efforts. An interesting article also came out this week on why fewer people are donating to Pakistan than the crisis in Haiti. Essentially, people aren’t as heartbroken over the Pak floods because they are less catastrophic than the massive earthquake in Haiti and the Haitians are seen as entirely helpless and “innocent” compared to people in Pakistan, where some of the population is associated with the Taliban (this is from the article, not my personal assessment). Because of tension between Pakistan and the U.S., some people feel less inclined to donate. But with that being said, the U.S. has donated so much to Pakistan because if radical Islamic groups donate more, it could have a great outcome on our “war against terrorism.”

“Obviously we are very concerned that this does not have a long-term impact on stability and institutions,” Nasr said of the floods. “But the way in which the U.S. has reacted in some ways shows the importance of the strategy. The U.S. reacted quickly because of the interagency teams it had put together. It made for a much quicker turnaround.”

Gen. Jehangir Karamat (ret.) said that the U.S.’s efforts in Pakistan will have a great impact on its success in Afghanistan.

“I really think there’s no real alternative to what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan,” he said. He said a lot of the negativity towards the U.S. in Pakistan is linked to the public’s ignorance of the intricacies of the relationship.

Right now, the government is heavily reliant on the U.S. to take care of the floods. “I think what happens between Pakistan and the U.S. on the positive side doesn’t come up in Pakistan media and in discussions. That is driving the opinion.”

He said the biggest issue to the people of Pakistan in the coming months will be recovery efforts and the rebuilding of their economy.

Coll concluded the discussion with a fundamental question he felt would dictate the path of the U.S/Pakistan relationship in the midst of flood relief and potential talks with the Taliban.

“We need to ask whether as partners with the state of Pakistan, as provisioners of generous aid, is the Pakistani state doing EVERYTHING it could be reasonably asked to do to contain and break down the historical relations with these groups?”

Debate inside the U.S. continues over this very issue, but Karamat asserted that “without unraveling the state, Pakistan is doing everything possible to support the US strategy in Afghanistan and to work things out with India.”

Hypocrisy all around: Karzai tells foreigners to back off

President Hamid Karzai

After a summer of attempts to improve relations with the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, Karzai came out today with tough statements against foreign assistance. He said, according to the latest article in the Wall Street Journal, that foreign advisors should be replaced by Afghans.

He called for a ban on private security companies that are sent to protect a number of Western servicemembers in Afghanistan, saying “We have the ability to rule and govern our country and we have our sovereignty.”

Oh you do, do you?

“We hope that NATO countries and the U.S. pay attention,” he said.

The Wikileaks files along with the many reports of civilian casualties has lead to anti-American sentiment and overall loss of hope in the country. At the same time, the U.S. has promised to “start” withdrawing its troops and transitioning Afghan security forces by the summer of 2011. That means they committed to another year in the country in terms of security forces. Diplomatic efforts will continue long after 2011, they say. And that deadline, according to Sec. Clinton, is a “working deadline” and could change if circumstances change.

Just this weekend, 10 aid workers were killed, piling up the number of Western casualties of the war. The continued violence on top of Clinton’s repeated calls for corruption accountability have essentially diminished the good will we saw when Karzai visited in May.

A screenshot of Aisha, victim of abusive husband and antiquated laws in Afghanistan

Karzai made claims that security forces have received “illegal” salaries and are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night.”

What these companies do, in reality, is provide security for Western diplomats and organizations that provide aid and major infrastructure tools for Afghanistan. The article states that these companies are wary to hand control completely over to Afghan forces, which are often infiltrated by Taliban members.

According to Reuters, Congress has approved $345 billion so far to Afghanistan since 2001. Obama has asked for billions more and 30,000 extra soldiers. Will Congress be willing to fund the war when Karzai doesn’t even want foreign contractors there?

While Karzai is calling for a withdrawal, TIME, featuring an Afghan girl with her nose cut off, said “What Happens If we Leave Afghanistan.” We have a call for human rights, equality for women and the expulsion of misogynistic radical Taliban law while Karzai is telling the people of Afghanistan that foreign services need to leave.

I eagerly await a response from Obama and the State Department.

Arab Countries: A Nuclear Iran Would be “Positive”

A majority of the Arab population support Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, says a new study by the University of Maryland and Zogby International.

Shibley Telhami, the principal investigator of the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll announced at the unveiling of the study at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. that an overwhelming number of Arabs feel that Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, even if the program is not for peaceful purposes.

This study goes against the opinion of many experts who say that Arab nations would oppose a nuclear-armed Iran, including Mustafa Alani, research director at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, who said “We have a shared interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power”.

The poll indicates that 77 percent of the surveyed Arab population think Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, which jumped up from 53 percent last year. More than half also acknowledged that Iran is likely pursuing a nuclear program for non-peaceful means. A majority (57 percent) also said it would be “more positive” for the Middle East region if Iran had a nuclear weapon. Last year, only 29 percent of the population felt a nuclear-armed Iran would be “positive” for Middle Eastern countries. A mere 20 percent say that Iran should be pressured to stop its program.

The survey focused on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE between June 29 and July 20 of this year.

“This does not mean they like Iran. Arabs have mixed feelings,” said Telhami. “This is highly correlated to how they feel about the U.S. and their hopefulness of U.S. foreign policy.” According to the poll, the greatest foreign policy issues that disappoint the surveyed countries are the Palestine/Israeli conflict and the War in Iraq. While the war in Afghanistan overwhelmingly trumps Western headlines, only 4 percent of the surveyed population said they were disappointed with Obama’s handling of Afghanistan.

Additionally, the surveyed countries feel that the U.S. and Israel pose a greater threat to Middle East peace than Iran. While Israel scored 88 percent, Iran scored 10 percent.

“What you have is an evaluation of Iran through the lens of bigger threats—when over 80 percent are worried over Israel, the Iran issue seems marginalized. So the evaluation isn’t really about Iran—a lot of it is “the enemy of my enemy.”

The poll suggests that the Arab community has also dropped in its support and optimism for the Obama Administration because of his handling of Iraq and relationship with Israel.

“This disappointment comes from the outcome of the Iraq elections. I don’t think we get it sometimes. It’s not that Arabs don’t care about Afghanistan, but it’s not the prism they evaluate American foreign policy,” said Telhami. “It’s not the main issue to them.”

63 percent are discouraged by Obama’s policies towards the Middle East, which changed dramatically from 15 percent in 2009.

To view the complete report, visit Brookings.

A Day with Progressives: the Campus Progress 2010 National Conference

I’m not sure what to expect tomorrow at the Campus Progress National Conference, but all I know is that I will be in a room with some of today’s youngest and brightest leaders who are making significant change in their communities. Some are campaigning for immigration reform, others are reporters, others are lobbying in Congress for equal rights and others are advocating the political party of their choice. I can’t wait to meet the Campus Progress and CAP team as well as some new friends at the Huffington Post and other publications.

I will be live tweeting and blogging the event, with a focus on the Afghanistan and journalism panels (two of my favorite subjects!) I’m not registered as press, but hopefully I can talk to a few of the youth leaders in between all the chaos.

Some of the main speakers this year include:

Van Jones is a leader in the clean energy movement. He is co-founder of three successful organizations — the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change and Green For All — and a former White House advisor to President Obama.

Samantha Power is Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council in the White House. She was the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, A Problem From Hell, a study of U.S. policy and genocide.

Paul Begala was a key strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the presidency and a senior White House adviser in the Clinton Administration. He is presently Research Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and has been for years a leading commentator on CNN.

Other confirmed speakers include: Jamal Simmons, also a CNN commentator and a top political strategist; Under Secretary of EducationMartha Kanter, the Obama Administration’s point person on higher education;Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President of the Hip Hop Caucus; feminist organizer Shelby Knox; Wonkette editor Ken Layne; and Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

Among the many issues they will discuss are gay rights, immigration, climate change and the environment, reproductive and women’s rights, race and the economy.

I’ll be there all day with my friend, Ali, who will be covering the event for the Kojo show. Tune in with the #CPNC hashtag or my twitter account.

This Week in DC: July 5-9

Did I forget something? Email me at ladansusan@gmail.com to list a foreign policy event.

For Tuesday:

UPDATE:

(Latest from the AP) Netanyahu is in Washington–Jewish groups pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop archaeological digs and construction that’s said to be desecrating ancient Jewish cemeteries in the Holy Land will gather in front of the Israeli embassy, rally in front of the White House, and march to the State Department.

At 2:15, Netanyahu will be at the Pentagon with Sec. Gates for an honor cordon.

UPDATE: In the afternoon, Secretary Geithner will meet with Heng Swee Keat, the Managing Director of Singapore’s Monetary Authority, and Chan Heng Chee, Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States, at Treasury. Closed press.

The USIP hosts “Counter-narcotics in Afghanistan” where they discuss a new Center for International Cooperation (CIC) report entitled “Drug Production and Trafficking, Counterdrug Policies, and Security and Governance in Afghanistan.” It will discuss, according to USIP:

  • Current counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan is financially benefiting – rather than hurting – insurgents;
  • Rural development efforts should be focused on assisting rural populations – aid should not be conditioned on desistance from poppy-growing; and
  • Counternarcotics policy should be refocused to discriminate against illegal armed groups and corrupt officials in enforcement.

The event will be held at USIP from 10:00-11:30

CSIS will hold a talk on the need for an OSCE head of state summit in light of recent events in Kyrgyzstan. At the Ministerial Meeting in Athens in December 2009, Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev of Kazakhstanreiterated the proposal of President Nursultan Nazarbayev that the OSCE hold a summit of heads of state and government during 2010. The event will take place between 12:15 and 1:45 at CSIS.

For Wednesday

I will be at the 2010 Campus Progress conference hearing an inspiring panel of young leaders who were hand selected from hundreds of applicants. They’ll talk about important issues like immigration, climate change, LGBT issues, foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan. I’ll be live blogging from here, of course. More details on the event here.

Otherwise:

New: At 10:00 am, there will be a briefing on Afghanistan with Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and deputy commander, U.S. Forces at the Pentagon.

Also interesting: The Voice of America, at its huge, nice headquarters, will have a press conference on AIDS in preparation for the international AIDS conference. The speaker will be Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health and one of the key advisors to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues.

Carnegie is hosting a talk on Cross-Strait relations between China and Taiwan. It is an all day panel with lunch included from 10-5:00 at Carnegie. More info here.

Brookings is holding an event on the African economy from 2-4. Find more info here.

CSIS will be holding a talk on the recent elections in Mexico from 3:00-4:30. For some news on the elections, I recommend following Jeff Antebi on Twitter. Very interesting person to follow!

At night, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy will hold a talk on the convergence of foreign policy and economic policy from 7-8:30.

For Thursday

I’m really excited about USIP’s Thursday event on bloggers in war zones called “Blogs and Bullets.” I hope to attend and hear many bloggers from the Middle East share their stories and possibly write a post on it for RFE. The event will be webcasted and if I can, I will surely live Tweet it. More info here.

Also on Thursday, a talk on the U.S.’s partnership with Hungary at the Potomac Institute with the Ambassador to Hungary.

The Berkeley Center will hold a talk on women’s roles in religion and peace building, Brookings will hold an event on Japan, The Stimson Center will hold a talk on Pakistan and Busboys and Poets will feature a documentary on children in Gaza.

For Friday

From July 8-9, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister will be in town, meeting with the Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion and Director General of the US & Foreign Commercial Service, Suresh Kumar, at the Department of Commerce.

USIP will hold two events tomorrow–one on Southern Sudan and building an education system in conflict at 10:00 and another on war torn societies at 1:00 featuring the release of a framework for Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments (MPICE) developed by the United States Institute of Peace in collaboration with the Department of State, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

International Stories June 28-July 2

INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES

Obama signs the Iran sanctions law

Clinton embarks on tour of Eastern Europe for 4th of July weekend

The World Celebrates Social Media Day

Pakistan Renews Efforts to Restrict Coverage of Extremists

Dozens killed in Pakistan Suicide bombing

Islamic advisor to U.S. military explains what McChrystal and Petraeus get about Muslim hearts and minds.

Clinton’s head speechwriter is departing

Reporters Without Border creates first-ever anti-censorship shelter

Uzbek Refugees said they were pressured into returning to Kyrgyzstan

The BBG nominees were confirmed late Wednesday night

House Dems block reconstruction funds to Afghanistan–cite corruption

BREAKING: 10 alleged Russian spies arrested in U.S.–are we back to the Cold War?

House Democrats cite corruption, cut reconstruction funds to Afghanistan

This just in from CNN: Mexican gubernatorial candidate killed by gunfire

This just in from the AP: Iran says it won’t enter talks with the West over disputed nuclear program until late August.

Nearly 100 NATO workers in Afghanistan were killed in June

The OSCE praised Kyrgyzstan for holding a referendum on their new constitution

Pakistani officials say U.S. missiles killed 3 near Afghan border

G20 leaders call to cut deficits in half by 3 years

HIV/AIDS may be fueled by war on drugs

New Palestinian Radio Station aimed at Empowering Women

In Iraq: 650 Kurdish families displaced

Trial of Iran’s “blogfather” beings in Tehran

Wired: After 9 years, U.S. finally tries to get a grip on wartime contractors

U.N summer camp gets vandalized in Gaza

New Prime Minister in Czech Republic Announced

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to Iran John Limbert to retire: Laura Rozen

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Congress passed Iran Sanctions Bill 99-0

McChrystal resigns over dissenting comments in Rolling Stone article–Petraeus to take is spot as lead UN/US commander in Afghanistan

Medvedev visits the US–dines with Obama at Ray’s, discusses RESET and gets Twitter

Human Trafficking Report Released

Great piece by Richard Lugar on problems with International Broadcasting management

US/Israel amid threat of UN action: Josh Rogin

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly criticizes Russia’s policy in the North Caucasus and urges Russian authorities to acknowledge fundamental rights

85 journalists have fled their countries in 2010–highest exodus in Iran and Africa

Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Treasury and State Dept. Officials to go over new Iran sanctions and their effect on international businesses

“I have nothing left”: Ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan continues