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The NY Times is reporting that it’s almost official: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates will stay on at the Pentagon in the Obama adminsitration, although it’s not certain for how long. I think the political optics of what signal this sends regarding Democrats ability to manage national security rightly take a back seat here to the fact that Gates has been very impressive in effecting the institutional changes necessary to support the operational needs of two ongoing wars. But the Pentagon’s final internal armistice lines (COIN vs. conventional and hard vs. soft power in Iran, for instance) have not been […]

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As much as the improved security in Iraq, the fact that Stuart Bowen is no longer tearing out any new ones is a sign of the improvements we’ve made with regard to warzone reconstruction operations. What this all means in the medium- to longrun, I find myself wavering on. It’s still possible that the country might degress into a Sunni-Shiite-Kurd free for all once we’re gone. (News that the Kurds have been arming themselves independently of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense somehow doesn’t come as such a shock.) And if it does, the past two years will have functioned as […]

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Discussing Barron YoungSmith’s TNR post about the potential tension between Michele Flournoy (the head of President-elect Barack Obama’s Defense Dept. transition team) and Bob Gates should Gates stay on as Sec. of Defense, Kevin Drum writes: Gates has taken the position that the Army should focus almostexclusively on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare in the future. . . Now, I’ve been keeping a wary eye on the body-snatching COIN pods ever since they touched down, primarily because of how tempting the vision of warfare that they offer is to both the humanitarian left and the hawkish right. I’m also skeptical of […]

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As a followup to the purported SOFA document that I flagged over at Iraq Oil Report, McClatchy (via Kevin Drum) has now posted a “translation from the Arabic” version, which seems to match it. (I didn’t go through word for word, but I checked it against a few key paragraphs.) So while the Bush administration was busy trying to keep this document under close wraps, not just from the American public but from the American Congress as well, the Iraqi government was busy leaking it to as many Western news outlets that it could find. Now, I’ve seen some quotes […]

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Don’t miss Laura Rozen’s MoJo feature on the shadow world of foreign policy: This is a story of the other world, the one whose real power playersnever show up in the CNN headline crawl. It’s the story of a man with ahabit of popping up, Zelig-like, at the nexus of foreign policy and thekinds of businesses that thrive in times of war — security contracting,infrastructure development and postwar reconstruction, influence andintelligence brokering. Besides being a great read, it shows both the extent to which “official” diplomacy is just the tip of the iceberg, but also how what goes on beneath […]

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I pass this on with the caveat that I have no idea how credible it is, but the Iraq Oil Report site is claiming to have a text of the SOFA agreement signed in Baghdad over the weekend. The text is available here as a Word document. If this is, in fact, the actual document, most of the leaks regarding the military aspects seem to have been accurate. The clause forbidding the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to launch an attack on foreign powers is there (Art. 27, sec. 3), and the Iraqis seem to have gotten what they wanted […]

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With regard to the SOFA approved by the Iraqi cabinet over the weekend (NY Times article here), I’ve got to agree with Kevin Drum’s assessment of the political optics: This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for alittle while longer; good for George Bush, who’s getting a slightlylonger timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good forObama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into abipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complainabout Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved byBush. In terms of operational nuts and bolts, I’m curious […]

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Nov. 30, 2006, in Amman, Jordan. White House photo by Paul Morse.

President-elect Barack Obama will inherit an Iraq that has experienced substantial improvements in security, but remains rife with unresolved internal issues. If not handled carefully, Iraq's fragile progress could dissolve and the country could become a dangerous foreign policy minefield for yet another American president. Here are the top 10 issues the next administration must address: 1. Determination of Objectives: The Bush administration invested vast resources in the hopes of achieving maximalist aims in Iraq. Though the results in Iraq have clearly fallen short of those aims, the Obama administration needs to formulate a policy that is more comprehensive and […]

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More proof that France really, really, really wants to be Barack Obama’s privileged EU interlocuter: France, currently chairing the six-month rotating European Unionpresidency, is pushing for the bloc to engage more and “without delay”in Iraq, a working paper seen by Financial Times Deutschland reads. . . . The timing of such a move serves the interests of the new U.S. president,as he is set to shift the U.S. focus in its War on Terror from Iraq toAfghanistan and Pakistan. The easy punchline here is obviously that “serving the interests of the new U.S. president” is not how you’d normally expect […]

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Interesting to note that the election of Barack Obama has not changed all Iraqi parties’ views on the U.S.-Iraq SOFA. Say what you want about Moqtada al-Sadr, but the guy has been remarkably consistent. Who knows? He might even turn out to be right. Meanwhile, as Al-Jazeera reports, the U.S. has returned the SOFA to Iraq with some — but not all — of the revisions requested by Baghdad now written into the document. One thing that I hadn’t realized is that, with all the talk of a firm withdrawal by 2011, the document now requires American forces to withdraw […]

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Rob at Arabic Media Shack makes a good point: If we made a list of the top 10 American global securitychallenges, probably 9 would be directly or indirectly related to theMiddle East. Therefore, wouldn’t it be logical to pick someone who isa specialist on the region? Someone who could go to a conference ofMiddle Eastern scholars and hold their own discussing regional,history, politics, and culture and not purely strategy from a narrowperspective of American interests? None of the last four NSA’s(Rice,Hadley, Berger, orLake) were experts on the Middle East. Has policy been especially stellar during this period (1993-2008)? I’d argue […]

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Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on Hollywoodand the rehabilitation of war in the post-Vietnam era. I’d suggest thatG.I. Jane represents the culmination of a trend that began with Officer and a Gentleman and Taps,fully integrating the third wave feminist movement into the militarycode of honor and combat. I mention it only because by some oddcoincidence, I watched G.I. Jane (overdubbed into French) on the télélast night, only to stumble across this Army Times reviewof a new PBS documentary, “Lioness” (on women who have served in combatroles in Iraq) this morning. As the review and documentary make […]