National Security Network

A Week That Changed the Foreign Policy Debate

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Report 25 July 2008

Iraq Iraq Foreign Policy iraq Maliki McCain Obama

This week was supposed to be a liability for Barack Obama as he travelled abroad and John McCain focused on domestic issues here at home. Instead it turned out just the opposite. Obama successfully navigated a trip through the Middle East and Europe – drawing cheers from American troops in the Middle East and a crowd of more than 200,000 in Berlin. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi Government undermined John McCain’s Iraq policy by endorsing the idea of a timetable, while McCain himself was misstating basic facts about the surge.

Maliki embraces plan for withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq by mid-to-late 2010. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the first time endorsed a vision for a specific timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying “U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.” He added, “Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems” and setting timetables would not be an “admission of defeat.” Furthermore, Bush and McCain’s refusal to acknowledge Iraqis’ demands for a timetable is causing the Iraqi government to push back on the Bush administration. [Reuters, 7/19/08; Der Spiegel, 7/20/08; AP, 7/20/08]

McCain’s history of the surge is wrong and demonstrates a misunderstanding of the situation in Iraq. In response to a question from Katie Couric regarding Obama’s crediting the Sunni Awakening and Shiite government for going after Al Qaeda and Shi’a militias, McCain responded, “Colonel McFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.” History, however, tells a different story. Not only does Colin Kahl note in Foreign Affairs that it is simple fact that the Awakening began “more than a year before the surge and took off… long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq”, but McCain used the Awakening to justify the surge. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on January 5, 2007 McCain said “I really believe that there's a strong possibility that you may see a very substantial change in Anbar province due to [these] new changes in our relationships with the sheiks in the region.” McCain attributes everything that has happened in Iraq to the use of military force, when it is in fact a combination of political and military elements. [CBS News, 7/22/08; Military Review, March/April 2008; Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008; Washington Post, 7/23/08]

Obama speaks in Germany, drawing more than 200,000. Barack Obama, nearing the end of his seven-country foreign trip, staged a rally in Berlin on Thursday. The audience stretched almost a mile from the Siegessaule to the Brandenburg Gate, which divided East Berlin from West Berlin during the Cold War. During his appearance Obama declared "Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century." He continued, "America has no better partner than Europe.” [USA Today, 7/25/08]

Quick Hits

Joe Klein says that John McCain’s foreign policy is unraveling.

Iran is both refusing to cooperate with the IAEA and sending out signals of closer cooperation.

The State Department in Iraq announced a tenfold expansion of its visa program for Iraqi employees, which will allow “5000 Iraqis to go to the United States for each of the next five years.”

The Secretary General of NATO called for more international attention on Afghanistan in the face of ever increasing foreign insurgent influx.

Meanwhile, President Karzai deemed the Afghan-Pakistan border to be “under serious threat” by a resurgent Taliban forces coming from Pakistan.

Afghanistan the forgotten war: In another gaffe from his CBS interview, John McCain said that “Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11.”

The Iraqi Olympic team, which received “a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony four years ago,” was banned from this year’s Beijing competition.