As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq, “finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban,” shut down Gitmo and break through the impasse with Iran. But as president, Obama is learning that conducting U.S. foreign policy is far more difficult than simply critiquing it. As a consequence, on the central foreign policy and national security issue of the day — the global struggle against Islamic terrorists and their patrons and partners — there is far more common ground between Obama and former President George W. Bush than Obama’s supporters expected, and less change than his opponents feared. […]

Iraq: The Exodus Continues

What’s wrong with this picture? Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, with the phased American military withdrawal already underway and following elections this month that the Obama administration hopes will mark the closing chapter of U.S. involvement in Iraq, there are still more Iraqi refugees leaving their country than returning to it. According to the latest report from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, released last week, 24,000 Iraqi refugees sought asylum in the industrialized nations in 2009. But that’s not counting those who crossed into Syria or Jordan, who have in the past tended to be more numerous but […]

For close to a decade now I’ve been roaming the world, delivering in Johnny Appleseed fashion a message that I refined just after 9/11 for the secretary of defense’s Office of Force Transformation: The world’s core powers must develop a systemic approach to postwar and post-disaster coalition interventions inside what I call the “Non-Integrated Gap,” by which I mean those countries and regions least connected to globalization. This vision encompasses the so-called “whole of government” approach, but extends it vigorously to also include the private sector, based on the knowledge that jobs are the only exit strategy. In short, when […]

Most coverage of the outcome of Iraq’s March 7 elections has portrayed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s re-election as seriously in doubt, with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, contending for the position. However, not only is another term for Maliki likely, his only real obstacle is securing Kurdish support. Allawi, on the other hand, does not represent a realistic threat. More generally, the election will result in a parliament that is more polarized between majority Shiite Islamists and opposition Sunni Arab nationalists, with secular Shiite and tribal parties almost entirely wiped out. Although definitive tallies have not yet […]

U.S. in Iraq: The New Israel

Just another quick afterthought to yesterday’s post about how the U.S. presence in Iraq has altered the strategic logic of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Setting aside all of the non-strategic aspects of the relationship, which is admittedly a huge component, Israel has historically functioned as a U.S. proxy in the region — the surest and most reliable ally in terms of the broad alignments on which U.S. interests depend, and a security firewall that has come close to resembling a forward outpost. Now notice what’s changed in the above equation. First, Israel’s current posture — obstructionist with regard to Israel-Palestine negotiations, […]

The U.S. and Israel: From Allies to Neighbors

If you haven’t seen it yet, click through and take a look at Mark Perry’s Foreign Policy article on some recent shifts in the U.S. military’s strategic framing of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Although the story ran in the aftermath of Vice President Joe Biden’s disastrous trip to Israel, the events it reports took place beforehand, and give some background for where Biden’s alleged “This is getting serious for us” quote came from. Laura Rozen smartly places the “meta” narrative in the context of a pre-emptive White House defense against any Israeli efforts by way of congressional supporters to limit the […]

Gen. Odierno: A Coalition Government is the Only Way

Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, talks to NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer about the recent elections in Iraq and the possibilities for security and democracy in the immediate future. Odierno stresses that decision-making is solely with the Iraqi government and that U.S. forces are in the country in an advisory role. He also says that it looks as if the timetable for troop withdrawal is on schedule after the overall success of relatively non-violent elections.

Iraq’s Elections Show Democracy’s Growing Strength

The run up to this weekend’s Iraqi election — the second general election held since the fall of Saddam’s regime — was marked by speculation, anticipation and no shortage of controversy. Since the last such election in 2005, the Iraqi people have witnessed continual changes to their country and political map, and the trajectory of Iraq as determined by this latest election could change accordingly. There is little doubt that, although the elections saw some violence, they were a marked improvement from 2005 and a testament that democracy is taking root in Iraq. There is much at stake in the […]

It could take over a month before the Iraqi Supreme Court confirms the results of Sunday’s legislative elections, but the process itself has already shown significant successes in several dimensions. Even so, important questions regarding Iraq’s future, and America’s role in it, remain unresolved. Most importantly, this latest election confirms Iraq’s status as a functioning democracy in which multiple candidates and political parties compete for office in essentially free and fair elections, whose outcome could not be predicted in advance. While such an achievement would not be remarkable in many parts of the world, it is a rarity in the […]

WPR on France 24: The World Last Week

I again had the pleasure last Friday of appearing on France 24’s panel discussion week-in-review program, The World This Week. The other panelists were Tom Redubrun of the IHT, Stefan de Vries of RTL, and Laura Dagg of Toute l’Europe. Topics included the Iraqi elections, the Greek debt crisis, and U.S.-Turkey relations in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide bill. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.

National security types have long noted — and complained about — the relative lack of military veterans in Congress, which results in too few experienced votes being cast when the prospect of overseas interventions is raised. I have long noted — and complained about — the fact that Congress’ most prominent military vets hail from the Vietnam era, which has led many to instinctively reject the necessity and utility of conducting nation-building and counterinsurgency. Clearly, our lengthy interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan will alter this generational equation, but how will the experiences of today’s veterans impact their votes in tomorrow’s […]

Taking Kurdish Stability for Granted

This Leila Fadel article about tensions among Iraq’s Kurds highlights how our contingency planning in Iraq takes Kurdish solidarity and stability for granted. In fact, both are pretty recent developments, and, counterintuitively, could be undermined by further stabilization of Iraq’s national political landscape. For all its stability, Iraq’s Kurdish region has made little progress in terms of democratic governance or rule of law. So as stability becomes more nationally widespread, and therefore less locally urgent, and as the Kurds begin to pursue their interests within the context of Iraq’s national politics, as opposed to in opposition to Baghdad, internal faultlines […]

Iraq’s parliamentary elections this Sunday, March 7, will close the first full chapter in the country’s transformation to a democratically elected, majority-rule system of government. The government elected in December 2005 consolidated Shiite rule and eventually brought Iraq a degree of security as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tightened his grip on the levers of power. Now the nation’s corruption, fragile peace and lack of national reconciliation have left many looking for change — including American officials eager to see, if not a new Iraqi leader, at least a shake-up in the composition of his government. They will likely be disappointed. […]

Open Voting In Iraq Sparks Violence

NewsHour’s Ray Suarez reports on violence that sprang up as Iraqi citizens lined up for early voting. The much anticipated parliamentary elections have moved forward, despite violence that has sprouted throughout the country to deter voters from making it to the polls. As democracy fights for a place on the Iraqi political stage, the Obama administration continues to talk about an impending withdrawal.

Iraqi Elections Preview

In the lead up to the much anticipated March 7 parliamentary election in Iraq, VOA’s Deborah Block reports on the political climate in the country. Experts say they are looking to see if coalitions will be formed along nationalist or religious lines. More than four hundred candidates have been banned from running in the election, causing apprehension in the international community that election results may not be seen as legitimate — an outcome that would be a serious blow to Iraq’s democratic progress.

Iraq War Novel: Senator’s Son

I’ve noted on a few occasions here on the blog the lack of fiction, as opposed to non-fiction memoirs, to have emerged from America’s current wars. Soon after the last time I did so, I received an e-mail from Luke Larson, a veteran of two tours in Iraq, to inform me that he had in fact written a novel based on his experiences there. I took Larson up on his offer to send a copy, and the book, “Senator’s Son,” arrived on Friday. I gave the first few pages a glance the following morning to get a feel for it, […]

The New Rules: Winners and Losers in Iraq’s Upcoming Election

The upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections loom large in the political fortunes of so many players, both internal and external, that it constitutes a historical referendum of sorts — not just for Iraq, but beyond as well. Across the region, globalization, in all its complex currents, appears poised at a number of inflection points. The outcome of Iraq’s elections will leave winners on some fronts, losers on others, and will trigger plenty of bandwagoning by those worried about being left out or left behind. Here’s a list of some potential outcomes, none of which are mutually exclusive, in rough order of […]