Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gen. Petraeus sounds cautious note on progress in Iraq

General tells Washington groups that violence is down, but that many potential flash points still exist in Iraq. By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 9:38 PM PDT, October 9, 2008 WASHINGTON -- Gen. David H. Petraeus' visit to Washington this week, his first high-profile tour of the capital since handing over command in Iraq, has had the feel of a victory lap in the midst of an ongoing race. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented him the State Department's highest honor. He was hailed at the conservative Heritage Foundation as "the right man in the right place and at the right time." And a former Army chief compared him to Alexander the Great, slicing the Gordian Knot of Iraq. Iraq, U.S. near deal on military future 11 Iraqis die in Mosul suicide bombing Recent coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars Through it all, Petraeus appeared almost sheepish, insisting that the accolades belonged to his troops and joking that he wished his parents were around to hear the praise. "My dad would have enjoyed it, and my mother might have even believed it," Petraeus said. Between the encomiums and the occasional laughter, however, Petraeus spent the week presenting a much more sober view of Iraq than most of those lauding him. Armed with his trademark charts and graphs, he said that Iraq has improved dramatically since last summer, with violence dropping to its lowest levels since early 2004. But he also argued that things could still go wrong. One of the slides he presented at both Heritage and a gathering of current and retired Army officers had 10 "potential storm clouds" -- complete with yellow lightning bolts shooting from 10 gray shapes -- that could upend recent gains. "This progress is a little less fragile, if you will, and a little more durable" than when he testified before his confirmation hearing in May, Petraeus said. "But that is very heavily qualified by noting that there are enormous difficulties that Iraq still has to deal with." Petraeus' cautious view, a hallmark of his command, contrasts with the suggestions of imminent victory from those around him and has set the U.S. course for nearly two years. As one of the last acts of his tour in Iraq, for example, Petraeus pushed to keep nearly 140,000 troops in Iraq through the middle of next year over the wishes of some Pentagon leaders who wanted a faster rate of withdrawals. Petraeus is taking over U.S. Central Command, the headquarters for all U.S. forces in the Middle East and central Asia, at the end of the month, meaning his views will influence the next presidential administration. Some within the Pentagon think the move to Centcom will moderate Petraeus' views on troop levels in Iraq, particularly once he sees the risks faced by allied forces in eastern and southern Afghanistan. No additional U.S. troops can be sent to Afghanistan without a corresponding reduction in Iraq. "They say where you stand depends on where you sit, and so I'll be interested to have that conversation with him later on when he's responsible for both places," said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, at a recent news conference. The extent of Petraeus' clout will depend, of course, on the winner in November. Democrat Barack Obama has acknowledged that during a July visit to Iraq, he pressed Petraeus to consider faster deployments to Afghanistan. Republican John McCain, on the other hand, indicated during Tuesday night's presidential debate that he'd give the general a largely free hand when it comes to setting strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and said the two have already discussed Petraeus' plans for Afghanistan. "I've had conversations with him," McCain said. "It's the same overall strategy" as Iraq. Petraeus did not respond to a request to comment on his contacts with McCain or Obama about troop deployments. Still, the storm clouds described by Petraeus were varied and, in several cases, potentially combustible. In one, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has been slow to incorporate defense militias composed of former Sunni insurgents into mainstream Iraqi security units. "This has been difficult, and I think you'd have to understand, if you walked a mile in [the Shiites'] shoes, why it's difficult," Petraeus said at Heritage. "These were people that were shooting at them, shooting at us. They have our blood on their hands, in some cases. But again, this is how you end these kinds of conflicts." Petraeus also cited the uncertain fate of Kirkuk, the oil-rich northern city where competition between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens has inflamed tensions, as a potential flash point for future violence. More immediate are concerns about millions of displaced Iraqis returning to their homes, some of which have been occupied for years by rival sectarian groups. Petraeus also pointed to expected January provincial elections, where previously disenfranchised Sunnis in western and northern Iraq, as well as bitterly opposed Shiite factions in the south, are competing over political spoils through increasingly powerful regional councils. Almost all previous Iraqi elections have seen spikes in violence, and U.S. military officials believe the January elections could be the most consequential to date.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does anyone read this rag?

pavocavalry said...

good blog sir, i wanted to invite you to my blog but there was no e mail address

regards

Agha

Anonymous said...

He's not a sir. Remember, he's doing this while on INACTIVE reserve. So Mr. will do just fine, Agha.

pavocavalry said...

OK My Loyrd ! You seem to be very angry ! May be you fought with your wife ! In principle I do not reply to anonymous posts but i find your annoyance quite hilarious.Have a good day and God or Allah bless you.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your "principles" are as honorable as McSame's. You know, flexible. As in for veterans but voted against the Webb GI Bill. Good day and may the flying spaghetti monster bless you.

Anonymous said...

October 20, 2008
Powell Backs Obama and Criticizes McCain Tactics

By ELISABETH BUMILLER and JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president on Sunday morning, calling him a “transformational figure” who has reached out to all Americans with an inclusive campaign and displayed “a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity” and “a depth of knowledge” in his approach to the nation’s problems.

The endorsement, on the NBC public-affairs program “Meet the Press,” was a major blow to Senator John McCain, who has been a good friend of Mr. Powell’s for decades. Mr. Powell, a Republican, has advised Mr. McCain in the past on foreign policy.

Mr. Powell told Tom Brokaw, the host of “Meet the Press,” that he had been disturbed in recent weeks by the negative tone of Mr. McCain’s campaign, particularly its focus on Mr. Obama’s passing relationship with William Ayers, a 1960s radical and founder of the Weather Underground. The McCain campaign has sought to promote the idea that Mr. Obama is “palling around with terrorists,” in the words of Mr. McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, because of Mr. Obama’s weak links to Mr. Ayers.

“Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist,” Mr. Powell said. “Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?”

After the program’s taping, Mr. Powell told reporters that the thought of attacking Mr. Obama for Mr. Ayers was “over the top.”

Mr. Powell, who was secretary of state in the first term of President Bush, also said that he was concerned about Mr. McCain’s selection of Ms. Palin as his running mate and had come to the conclusion that she was the wrong choice.

“She’s a very distinguished woman, and she’s to be admired, but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president,” Mr. Powell said during the taping.

Mr. Powell offered Mr. McCain a small dose of solace by calling him a different kind of Republican and said that he believed Mr. McCain would make a good president. The problem, he said, was that the Republican Party had moved further to the right “than I would like to see it,” and that over the last several weeks the approach of the party and Mr. McCain “has become narrower and narrower.”

Mr. Powell told later reporters that he believed that Mr. McCain would continue to carry forth standard Republican policies. “As gifted as he is, he is essentially going to execute the Republican agenda, the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda, with a new face and a maverick approach to it, and he’d be quite good at it,” Mr. Powell said. “But I think we need a generational change.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. McCain shrugged off the endorsement by Mr. Powell.“Well, I’ve always admired and respected General Powell,” he said. “We’re longtime friends. This doesn’t come as a surprise. But I’m also very pleased to have the endorsement of four former secretaries of state” — Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Lawrence Eagleburger and Alexander M. Haig — “and I’m proud to have the endorsement of well over 200 retired army generals and admirals. I respect and continue to respect and admire Secretary Powell.”

In offering his endorsement, Mr. Powell became the highest-profile Republican to add his support to the Democratic ticket. Although he told Mr. Brokaw that he would not campaign for Mr. Obama in the final two weeks of the race, he did not rule out accepting an appointment in an Obama administration, whether it were a formal position or a more advisory role.

When Mr. Brokaw asked if Mr. Powell would be interested in perhaps serving as an ambassador at large in Africa or taking on the task of resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinianas, Mr. Powell replied: “I served 40 years in government and I’m not looking forward to a position or an assignment. Of course, I have always said if a president asks you to do something, you have to consider it.”

Mr. Powell’s endorsement exposed a fundamental policy rift in the Republican party’s foreign-policy establishment between the so-called pragmatists, a number of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake, and the neoconservatives , a competing camp whose thinking dominated President Bush’s first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.

Mr. Powell, who is of the pragmatist camp and has been critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, was said by friends in recent months to be disturbed by some of the neoconservatives who have surrounded Mr. McCain as foreign-policy advisers in his presidential campaign. The McCain campaign’s top foreign-policy aide is Randy Scheunemann, who was a foreign-policy adviser to former Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole and who has longtime ties to neoconservatives. In 2002, Mr. Scheunemann was a founder of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was an enthusiastic supporter of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and Pentagon favorite who was viewed with suspicion and distaste at the State Department when Mr. Powell was its secretary.

Mr. Powell met with both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama in June in preparation to make a possible endorsement. He has said repeatedly in recent months that he wanted to wait until after the political conventions and the presidential debates before making a decision.

Mr. Powell’s support of Mr. Obama was not a surprise to people who know him well and within Washington’s foreign policy establishment, but the Obama campaign welcomed it as a powerful reassurance to voters about Mr. Obama’s national-security credentials. Other voters, however, could discount it as an action of a disgruntled member of the Bush administration or as simply the support of one African-American for another. Mr. Powell also told reporters on Sunday that he was troubled that a number of Americans believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, although he did not directly link that supposition to the McCain campaign. At a recent town-hall style meeting during which an audience member said she thought that Mr. Obama was an “Arab,” Mr. McCain replied, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.”

“These are the kinds of images going out on Al Jazeera that are killing us around the world,” Mr. Powell said. “And we have got to say to the world it doesn’t make any difference who you are and what you are. If you’re an American, you’re an American.” Mr. Obama called Mr. Powell at 10 a.m. to thank him for the endorsement and told him “how honored he was to have it,” said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. The two spoke about 10 minutes.“He said he looked forward to taking advantage of his advice in the next two weeks and hopefully over the next four years,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Michael Cooper contributed reporting.


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