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.

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/

The First Draft: Sovereignty Day

IRAQWashington is a town of euphemisms, where “mistakes were made” but nobody takes responsibility, where lawmakers routinely refer to each other as “my good friend” before questioning their buddies’ sanity or moral character.

The Washingtonian art of the euphemism apparently has been learned in Baghdad, where to mark today’s departure of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared National Sovereignty Day and celebrated with a military parade.

As U.S. combat units get out of Iraq’s urban areas and move into rural bases, Pentagon leaders will be speaking, though not in Washington. Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses a NATO change-of-command ceremony in Stuttgart while Army General Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, briefs reporters via video link.