The tragic suicide bombings in Baghdad this weekend demonstrate that Iraq’s underlying political tensions, which went unresolved by President Bush’s surge strategy, must be addressed in order to achieve lasting stability. Many conservatives were quick to declare mission accomplished again following the lull in violence after the “surge.” However, the grievances and disputes that pushed Iraq into civil war and led to massive ethnic cleansing have yet to be comprehensively addressed. While overall violence has decreased since the fall of 2007, the underlying disagreements between Iraq’s three main groups – Shia, Sunni, and Kurds – have persisted. The political structure of the Iraqi state, the distribution of oil revenue, and the status of disputed territories in the north, are all issues the surge was supposed to address but did not. Though the swift creation of an election law agreement following the bombings is a hopeful sign, it remains to be seen whether this tentative progress can be translated into sustained political accommodation and reconciliation.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s efforts to rewrite the track record of his Administration reached a new level of absurdity yesterday. In one of the most bizarre attacks on President Obama yet, Cheney, as well as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), accused the President of “dithering” on Afghanistan.Furthermore, Cheney and Boehner’s calls for the Administration to rush more troops to Afghanistan without a clear partner government in place are irresponsible.
Years of neglect from the Bush Administration caused conditions in Afghanistan to grow steadily worse and set the stage for the challenges the Obama Administration is now wrestling with. Americans and Afghans both deserve a media and public debate that asks hard questions and engages in regular, unvarnished reassessment of the mission. Both are ill-served when, instead, what we get is a constant refrain of “Obama’s war” and stories that spend more space on lazy Vietnam parallels than on developments on the ground.
Yesterday Prime Minister Maliki and President Obama confirmed that the United States was on track to withdraw all of its combat forces by August 2010. The meeting between the two comes in the wake of the successful withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities. The transition of responsibility for security from U.S. to Iraqi forces has been relatively smooth. However, the situation in Iraq remains volatile, as bouts of sectarian violence have reemerged. But ultimately it is up to Iraqis to determine their own future. Therefore it is imperative that the withdrawal of U.S. forces continue along the timeline announced by President Obama in February, as outlined in the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement signed by President Bush.
On Thursday President Obama will deliver his much anticipated address to the “Muslim world” in Cairo, Egypt. The principal goal of the speech is to lay a foundation for better relations between the United States and the peoples of the region. Tin eared statements from President Bush – such as saying that America was on a “crusade” following 9-11 – along with the scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the falsehoods and incompetence that surrounded the invasion of Iraq, all served to tarnish America’s image in the region. The collapse of America’s moral authority under President Bush will not be fixed by a single speech, but the speech is part of a larger comprehensive strategy of engagement that is actively being pursued by the Obama administration.
As President Obama meets today with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the Pakistani Army prepares for a new offensive on the Swat Valley, there is little question that instability in Pakistan presents one of the most urgent threats facing the United States. The priority must be on looking forward – supporting Pakistan’s governing institutions and its military in fighting the insurgency and helping stabilize the country.
Yesterday Dick Cheney claimed that we have succeeded in Iraq and that the Bush administration’s torture policies were “a great success story.” But the latest sally in the previous Administration’s attempt to spin its own failed legacy bumped up against revelations of a secret 2007 report by the International Red Cross that concluded that the Bush administration’s interrogation methods “constituted torture” and amounted to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
With the success of a referendum eliminating term limits this weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez scored a victory in his campaign to style himself the champion of the poor and as the leader of region-wide opposition to the United States in Latin America. Unfortunately, the approach of the Bush administration toward Latin America strengthened Chavez, not weakened him, in his drive for autocratic power in Venezuela and demagogic status beyond it. A new approach to the region can begin with building a new partnership with rising democratic powers such as Brazil, expanding engagement toward the region to address a broader swath of issues, and taking symbolic concerns seriously – above all, with a start at dismantling many of the restrictive elements of the Cold War-era embargo against Cuba.