New Mission in Iraq [Update]

One of the first challenges for the new Obama administration will be delivering on the promise to responsibly end the war in Iraq.  While this issue has not been the subject of much discussion in the recent electoral contest it remains a key expectation of the new government both here and abroad.  After the election Obama said one of his first policy directives will be to give military commanders and the Secretary of Defense 'a new mission in Iraq: ending the war.'  But therein lies a rather complex and difficult tale.

Presently the US and Iraqi leadership are in the process of finalising the 'status-of-forces agreement' which will replace the UN mandate which expires on 31 December 2008, and it remains problematic:

BAGHDAD, Nov. 6 -- Two days after the election of Barack Obama, Iraq's chief spokesman said with unusual forcefulness Thursday that his government will continue to insist on a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops, despite American demands that any pullout be subject to prevailing security conditions.

"Iraqis would like to know and see a fixed date," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in an interview in which he also reiterated Iraq's position that American forces be subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction in some instances.

Iraqi officials, who see President-elect Obama's views on the timing of a U.S. withdrawal as consonant with their own, appear to be leveraging his election to pressure the Bush administration to make last-minute concessions. Dabbagh said negotiations to reach a status-of-forces agreement, which would sanction the U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond 2008, would collapse if no deal is reached by the end of this month.

Ernesto Londoño, Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung - Iraq Repeats Insistence on Fixed Withdrawal Date Washington Post 7 Nov 08

The problem that this agreement faces is ratification by the Iraqi parliament, further compounded by upcoming provincial elections on 31 January 2009 and the electoral split in the provinces between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Da'wa Party which may undermine the Shia coalition government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  While some demands have been met, such as Iraqi inspection of mail and cargo to US troops in-country, the major sticking points of extra-legal jurisdiction of US servicepersons and the absence of a fixed withdrawal date remain:

The latest draft calls for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and withdraw from Iraq by 2011. It also lifts immunity for private U.S. contractors such as Blackwater, whose security guards were accused of uncontrolled shooting while on patrol duty, resulting in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

It also allows for a joint U.S. and Iraqi committee to decide whether a U.S. soldier who's committed a crime outside a U.S. base was off-duty and where he should be tried. Iraqi officials wanted to make that decision on their own, but the Bush administration has apparently rejected the demand.

Leila Fadel, Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel - Iraqis seek more 'withdrawal' talks; U.S. says they're over McClatchy 6 Nov 08

The provisions of the agreement remain controversial both among State and Defense Department negotiators on the one hand and the Iraqi leadership on the other but it is now a 'take it or leave it' proposal by the United States:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the al-Maliki government will in coming months show the draft security agreement it has negotiated with the Bush administration to the main blocs in parliament to gauge whether they will accept the amendments it has wrung from Washington.  A source in the ruling (Shiite fundamentalist) United Iraqi Alliance told al-Hayat that there are no prospects for further negotiation with the U.S., and that the political parties in parliament will have to accept or reject it.

Juan Cole - Al-Maliki to Parliament on Security Agreement: 'Take it or Leave it' Informed Comment 11 Nov 08

With less than fifty days remaining to the expiry of the current mandate for the US forces presence in Iraq it is now in the hands of the Iraqi cabinet and parliament.  As well as noting an interesting sidelight to this story from the Obama transition team it is probably worth reviewing the political and security situation in Iraq to assess the threats and opportunities faced by the incoming administration in resolving this issue.  In spite of the lack of attention to this transitional phase in US-Iraqi relations there is no 'slam dunk' solution and the potential for trouble is acute.

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Introducing, grownup foreign policy!

In the wake of eight years of bumbling, catastrophe-spawning foreign policy, today's Washington Post provides a read more refreshing than a Budweiser from Brussels. In a dramatic reversal from existing strategy, the Obama administration is showing encouraging signs over talks with Iran, cooperation with Europe, conflict resolution in Afghanistan and actually following Bin Laden to the gates of hell.

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Russia says: "Game On!"

In a move that can only be described as an attempt to "ruffle feathers", today Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to station missiles on its territory near the Polish border.  Such a move, the Russian president insists, would be to counter the proposal by George W. Bush to station an anti-missile system in Poland.

"Medvedev was very assertive in his delivery," said Ronald Smith, chief strategist at Alfa Bank in Moscow. "(He) appeared to be staking out strong positions on various issues ahead of the entry of the new American presidential administration." m/us_russia_medvedev1_6

Engagement by the foreign policy team of President-elect Barack Obama, no doubt, will result in a course of action to address minimizing Russia's attempt to escalate an arms race.  Russia has just said:  "game on".  I have no doubt "Barack got game!".

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"We Can't Negotiate Nukes with a Black": Why the Kremlin Prefers McCain

As McCain campaign tactics sink back to gutter level, and our attentions turn to the next smear or attempt at voter suppression, this great diary by Ivan Krastev on The Motley Moose should remind us that there are bigots abroad who also want to see Obama fail: among these Putin and the Russian Oligarchy.

Yes, that's right. Whenever someone tells you that Obama will talk too much to enemies, and be soft on America's competitors, hear what a leading European political scientist has to say:

the Kremlin's elite with whom I have been discussing the coming American election are hard-core McCain supporters.

The well-known fact that Soviets have always preferred Republicans to the Democrats is not enough to explain "McCainmania" in the Kremlin. Russia's elite preference for McCain has different sources but four of them are worth mentioning: namely, race, class, strategic calculation and a love for lobbyists.

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Foreign Policy Discussion with Richard Clarke and Major General Scott Gration (ret'd) - Sarasota

Crossposted from the Motley Moose

I attended a foreign policy discussion yesterday led by Richard Clarke (Former Counter-Terrorism Advisor to the National Security Council and Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Obama) and retired Major General Gration at the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, New College of Florida.

The message from the speakers was clear: Senator McCain has been making dangerous decisions for our country for the past eight years and cannot be allowed to take us down the road the current administration has set us on.


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