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.

Lugar warns U.S. against war in Libya

momarIn recent days  some U.S. senators have been urging President Obama to consider military intervention to help Libyan rebels fighting Moammar Gaddafi.

Not Richard Lugar.

The top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee said little  while a senior member of his own party, John McCain,  repeatedly urged the United States to pursue setting up a no-fly zone over Libya.

On Sunday Democrat John Kerry, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, suggested that Washington might want to  ”crater”  runways used by Gaddafi’s forces.

Lady Gaga, WikiLeaks and :’(

WIKILEAKSWashington has been buzzing for days about Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst at the heart of the investigation into the leak of a quarter-million State Department diplomatic cables by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

And then there’s the Lady Gaga connection.

Manning said he listened to the flamboyantly-dressed singer’s “Telephone” as he pulled the documents off a military server in Baghdad, according to a transcript of online chats Manning had with a former hacker, Adrian Lamo. The chats, which occurred earlier this year, were posted by Wired.com on June 10. Lamo confirmed details of the chats to Reuters.

“i would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file … no-one suspected a thing. listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history,” Manning wrote in the uncapitalized, lightly punctuated style of a webchat.

Washington Extra – No victory lap

President Barack Obama will not be running a “victory lap” when he addresses the nation on Iraq this evening. Quite rightly, he points out that there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure Iraq “is an effective partner for us.” OBAMA/

There are several other reasons why tonight’s speech cannot be a victory lap. The first, Republicans argue, is that Obama is trying to take credit for the achievements of his predecessor George W. Bush, and specifically the “surge” in troop numbers (a policy Obama opposed at the time). The second, as the White House well knows, is that a victory lap might seem inappropriate in light of the nation’s economic woes. Indeed, Obama will be talking about the economy tonight, and the need to refocus resources back home.

 A third reason, perhaps, is that it could sound disingenuous to triumphantly declare the end of combat operations in Iraq while 50,000 armed American troops remain in the country. Not all of them will be working as trainers or instructors, and it is obvious that the troops will still be ready for combat if that should prove necessary.

Iraqi political haggling a big headache for American spies

What keeps U.S. spies awake at night? Iran. Al Qaeda. The bickering of Iraqi politicians.

With the United States officially ending its combat role in Iraq, one senior American spy said he was more worried about the lack of political reconciliation in Baghdad than whether Iran gets more meddlesome in Iraq or al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate makes a new, violent push there.

“I’m more concerned about the internal (Iraqi) situation than Iranian influence or the long arm of al Qaeda, which really doesn’t exist,” the senior intelligence official told reporters. He asked not to be named (as spies do). IRAQ/

Iraq … It’s not like Charlie Wilson’s war

Ambassador Chris Hill, the retiring U.S. envoy to Baghdad, is confident the Iraq war will not end up like Charlie Wilson’s war.

Wilson, the late Texas congressman, was a driving force behind the U.S. funding of mujahideen rebels who fought a Soviet occupation force in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, U.S. attention shifted elsewhere and Afghanistan slipped into civil war.
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Not a likely scenario in Iraq, Hill told a State Department briefing Tuesday.

“During my 16 months there I never lacked for senior people being, first of all, well-informed, and secondly, engaged and visiting, so I never had that (inattention) problem,” he said.

Biden finds irony in Iraq palace

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill,  spent Independence Day on a mission to Iraq, visiting with some of the 80,000 U.S. troops still serving there.biden3

The visit included a naturalization ceremony for about 150 service members who chose the holiday to become U.S. citizens.

When Biden took the microphone, he pointed out that the ceremony was taking place inside what used to be  one of Saddam Hussein’s many palaces.

Obama transport security pick avoids Iraq contract pothole

President Barack Obama’s pick to oversee U.S. transportation security appears to have dodged a major pothole on the road to being confirmed by the Senate after assuaging concerns about a government contract his old firm won to provide interrogators in Iraq.

Retired Major General Robert Harding was under the microscope at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday for his nomination to head the Transportation Security Administration, a job that has been filled on a temporary basis since Obama took office.

Harding spent more than three decades in the U.S. military, including a stint as deputy to the Army’s chief of intelligence and director for operations in the Defense Intelligence Agency. After retiring, he set up his own security consulting firm which he sold last year. SECURITY-AIRLINE/

What trumps a car bomb, a blizzard and a trip to Kabul?

GOLF-PGA/If you watched U.S. morning television or went online early today, you already know the answer to this media riddle. Top stories — a deadly car-bombing in Baghdad, a massive winter storm rolling across the United States and an unannounced flight to Afghanistan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates – took a back seat to a new development in the tabloid tale of Tiger Woods.

The latest turn in the super-golfer’s travails occurred overnight, when a Florida television station reported an unidentified woman was taken by ambulance from Woods’ home to a nearby hospital.

WESH-TV showed footage of a blond woman on a stretcher.

UPDATE: The woman wheeled out of  Woods’ home was identified as his mother-in-law, who was suffering from stomach pains.

The First Draft: Afghanistan inspires Freudian slips about that other battlefield – Iraq

President Barack Obama may have invoked Vietnam to banish that ugly specter of defeat from his shiny new Afghan strategy. But a day later, Iraq seems to be the wartime nightmare dogging two congressional veterans of the Bush wars.

Vice President Joe Biden, who was a Democratic senator from Delaware during Rummy’s “Shock and Awe” bombardment of Baghdad, let the musings of his unconscious psyche slip out Freudian style in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.

While refuting worries among critics that the Afghan strategy’s 18-month timeline might embolden the Taliban, Biden said: “How are they emboldened knowing that by the time we train up the Afghanis, we’re going to be gradually handing off beginning in 2003?”