Sunday, August 29, 2010

“Obama has to walk a fine line between claiming victory in Iraq and preparing the nation for continued chaos there.”

"President Obama will mark his return to Washington with renewed engagement in foreign affairs. In a visit to Texas, he will speak at a rally of troops home from Iraq. Later, in television address to the nation on August 31st he will announce the formal end of the US combat role in Iraq. This will enable him both to fulfill a campaign pledge and to place a positive narrative on the US engagement there. Following that, he will preside over the Middle East peace talks that begin in Washington on September 2nd.  In doing so, Obama will draw on one of the traditional strengths of the American presidency: its dominant role in military and international affairs. He should, therefore, be able to draw some much-needed political benefit from these activities. Senior White House advisers are keenly aware, however, that he will have to maneuver carefully. As one official expressed it to us: “Obama has to walk a fine line between claiming victory in Iraq and preparing the nation for continued chaos there.” Certainly, while most Americans welcome the return of US troops, the debate about the war’s significance pits conservatives and liberals against each other. White House officials also acknowledge to us that the Middle East peace talks carry a significant risk of turning out to be a high profile failure. They are keeping expectations modest and will declare them a success if the talks result simply in an agreement to keep talking. Meanwhile, the underlying doubts about policy toward Afghanistan continue. A number of senior generals are openly questioning the mid-2011 timeline for starting to withdraw US forces. Reports about President Karzai’s involvement with corruption are highlighting a deepening dilemma for US policy-makers in how far to push clean-up demands. Overshadowing foreign affairs, however, the biggest question for Obama, however, remains the economy.  Top economic officials are struggling to deflect a widening public impression that they are deeply divided on how best to counter the faltering recovery. Until Obama settles that question, his advisers know that any boost he may receive from foreign affairs activism will be modest and short-lived. "

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