Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – End in sight

President Obama didn’t bite when asked by a White House reporter today if he still thought the U.S. war in Iraq was “a dumb war.” Back in 2002, he could get away with such a blunt statement. As president, and with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at his side, he needed to be more subtle.

Up the two men went to Arlington Cemetery, their motorcade driving past the white grave stones of wars past and present, canon shots firing in the background, until they arrived at the Tomb of the Unknowns. A military band played both countries’ anthems, Obama stood with his hand over his heart for both songs while Maliki stood erect with his hands by his sides.

Obama said it was Maliki who wanted to go to Arlington, but it turned out to be a fitting, if somber way for Obama to close this chapter. By going to a place where the costs of war are so much in evidence, he was able to answer the “dumb war” question in a serene, statesman-like way.

Obama must feel relieved to be pulling the last troops out of Iraq by year end. There may be some celebration and even some political points to score out on the campaign trail. But today was about remembering the untold number of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 Americans who died in the war, not to mention the tens of thousands of troops wounded and maimed and the more than 1 million Americans who deployed to Iraq. Obama urged Americans and Iraqis “to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama says US will be loyal partner for Iraq
President Barack Obama pledged that Washington would remain a strong partner for Iraq as U.S. troops exit by year-end, and played down the risk this departure creates a power vacuum Iran can exploit. The withdrawal of almost all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31 has created uncertainty at a time the region remains roiled by the Arab Spring, and amid fear Syrian instability could spread sectarian strife into neighboring Iraq.

from Political Theater:

Gingrich airs first TV ad in Iowa: ‘Is the America we love a thing of the past?’

Newt Gingrich has released his first television ad of the campaign, an optimistic rebuttal to anyone who thinks "the America we know and love is a thing of the past." Set to air in Iowa this week, the spot mixes uplifting music (from the soundtrack to the film Rudy) and imagery -- wheat fields, a picket-fence home flying an American flag, factory workers, the Iowa State Capitol building -- with footage of Gingrich making the case that "together...we can rebuild America":

"We can revive our economy and create jobs, shrink government and the regulations that strangle our businesses, throw out the tax code and replace it with one that is simple and fair," Gingrich says in the ad. "We can regain the world’s respect by standing strong again, being true to our faith and respecting one another. We can return power to the people and the states we live in so we’ll all have more freedom, opportunity and control of our lives. Yes, working together, we can and will rebuild the America we love.”

Here's the ad, via Newt.org:

Credit: Newt.org

Perry is on for next debate… but after that?

Texas Governor Rick Perry is definitely on for the next  Republican debate  in Michigan  on Nov. 9th.  But after that — we’ll see.

Questions were raised about whether the GOP presidential hopeful would skip upcoming debates after he  suggested in an interview that participating in the previous debates  had been a mistake.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner told Reuters the governor is committed to the Michigan debate.  Miner also said  that with a little over two months before the start of the crucial early primaries the campaign plans to make the best use of its time –  perhaps taking its case directly to voters in Iowa, which kicks off  the nominating race on January 3. (There are a half dozen debates planned between now and then.)

Perry, Bachmann shine star power at Iowa dinner

Newly-minted Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry (and his black campaign bus)  rolled into Waterloo Sunday, where the Texas governor made a  campaign pitch to Iowa voters.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann showed up at the same event. They weren’t on stage together but Perry ending up sharing the spotlight.

Perry spoke first at the Black Hawk County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner and acknowledged another Republican presidential hopeful in the room, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum .

Republicans warm up in Iowa debate

Things got a little heated between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty during the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa.

Early on in the two-hour debate, the former Minnesota governor tried to knock the Minnesota congresswoman down a peg, saying her record of accomplishment and results “is nonexistent.”

Bachmann took aim at his record as governor, blasting his support for a cap and trade environmental plan and individual mandates in healthcare. “That sounds more like Barack Obama if you ask me,” she said.

Notes from West Liberty, Iowa

(View an in-depth look at scenes from Iowa and New Hampshire in a downloadable pdf format here and a look ahead to the primaries here)

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West Liberty is Iowa’s first Hispanic-majority city. Fifty-two percent of the people in this town of about 3,700 are Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census. It’s a number that would be impressive in any state. But it’s especially noteworthy in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white corner of the America Heartland where just 5 percent of the population statewide is Hispanic.

The town, located between Davenport and Iowa City, has long had a sizable and growing Hispanic population. The reason? The major employer here is West Liberty Foods, a 260,000-square-foot food processing plant that employs about 850 workers.

Notes from Independence, Iowa

(View an in-depth look at scenes from Iowa and New Hampshire in a downloadable pdf format here and a look ahead to the primaries here)

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The motto of Independence, Iowa is “America’s fame is in our name.” But Mike Anderson, the pastor of Baptist Bethel Church in Independence, says some of the problems besetting the country are on display in this town of 6,000, as well. “People around here don’t work as hard as they used to,” Anderson, 48, said. “Even farmers don’t do a lot of physical work anymore.”

The change — a function of the mechanization of agriculture and the demise of the small family farms he grew up on — has “not been a good thing” for the community, Andersen said.

Bachmann for president? Tea Party darling blames media

RTXQELN_Comp-150x150Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, champion-in-chief of the House Tea Party caucus, blames the media for all the recent chatter about her status as a potential presidential candidate.

“I’m not concerned about my own personal ambition,” she tells NBC News. “Right now, too many people in the media are concerned about who will be the nominee in 2012.”

That’s a wee bit odd given that the speculation began after her office announced a trip to the presidential field of frolic known as Iowa, with guidance that a White House run is not off the table.

First Draft: It’s Earth Day — The Green and the Red

President Barack Obama  heads to Iowa later today for an Earth Day tour of a former Maytag plant which has been reconfigured to produce wind energy equipment, lining up the “green jobs” that the Obama administration is pushing as part of the future for the American heartland.

 

OBAMA/Green is on the menu back in Washington, too, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk about “Greening Diplomacy” at an Earth Day event, but only after she testifies at the House Foreign Affairs Committee about more down-to-earth aspects of U.S. policy around the globe.

Another key player on Obama’s environment team — Energy Secretary Stephen Chu — will also be on the Hill talking green at a hearing on energy and climate change legislation.

Senator Harkin defends earmark to research pig odor

Some might think it would be hard to defend spending $1.8 million on researching how to deal with the odor from pig manure, but Senator Tom Harkin found it pretty easy to do.GERMANY/

Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, succeeded in getting the funds included in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that is pending in the Senate, drawing protests from some like Senator John McCain that it is wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

“I’m sure that David Letterman will probably be talking about it and Jay Leno will be talking about it, we’ve got $1.8 million to study why pigs smell,” Harkin said on the Senate floor after an amendment was introduced aimed at killing the funding.