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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: Partying Like It’s 2011

In the middle of the DNC frenzy, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s an end in sight in Iraq:

Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday that an agreement had been reached in negotiations on a security pact with the United States to end any foreign military presence in Iraq by the end of 2011.  “There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date which is the end of 2011 to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil,” Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in the Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

“Yes, there is major progress on the issue of the negotiations on the security deal,” Maliki said.  The Iraqi government has said it is proposing U.S. troops end patrols of Iraqi towns and villages by the middle of next year and U.S. combat troops leave Iraq by 2011.

Now here’s McCain’s comment on the deadline.  Time for the Diplospeak Translator!

McCAIN: I am pleased that, following the surge strategy led by General David Petraeus and our brave men and women in uniform, security in Iraq has improved to the point at which we can responsibly talk with our Iraqi allies about U.S. troop withdrawals.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  I can’t believe that Bush is screwing me so badly.  I saved his ass on Iraq and now he’s exposing mine.

McCAIN: Because of the hard-won success of this strategy, the Iraqi security forces are able to take on ever greater responsibility for security in their country. We should not forget that this is possible only because of the surge — a strategy many predicted would fail and that some cannot, even today, recognize as a stunning success.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: This is my success!  Mine, damnit!  Mine! My preciousssss!

McCAIN: While negotiations with the Iraqi government are ongoing, reports indicate that all dates included in the draft security agreement are aspirational goals, based on conditions on the ground.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Fixed date, what fixed date?  I’m not listening!  LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.

McCAIN: Conditions-based withdrawals of U.S. troops are the precise opposite course of that advocated by Senator Obama. Senator Obama seeks to withdraw all U.S. combat forces regardless of the consequences for Iraq or for American national security, and in disregard of our commanders’ best counsel.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Just because he’s right now doesn’t mean that he was always right.  I, on the other hand, was right when it counted, even if I’m wrong now.  Um, what I mean is that he’s a candidate who’s willing to lose a war in order to win an election, even though we’re now winning the war and the leaders of Iraq support his timetable, I mean time horizon.  Uh, um, wait a second.  I know!  He’s a celebrity, damnit!  Paris Hilton Paris Hilton Britney Britney Britney MADONNA!

McCAIN: Had we followed his course, Iraq could have easily descended into chaos and America would have suffered a catastrophic defeat. Instead, we are today negotiating a conditions-based agreement that will enable us to withdraw troops in victory and with honor.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Have I mentioned that I spent five years as a POW?  Well I was.  And that means I’m right.

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21 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:55 pm

Diplospeak Translator: SOFA (Hot) Potato

So it looks like the on-again off-again Status of Forces Agreement is back on.  The Condi went to Baghdad to try to hammer out the final details, and she and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appeared at a joint press conference to say that the two governments were close to a deal.  The Associated Press is reporting that American troops will be out of Iraq no later than next June 30, but The Los Angeles Times says they’ll stick around until 2011.

The State Department and White House web sites don’t have anything up on this yet, so we’ll have to see what their official comment is.  In the meantime, let’s use the Diplospeak Translator to compare and contrast what The Condi and Zebari had to say:

THE CONDI:  We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement. . . . Obviously, the American forces are here, coalition forces are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government. . . . What we’re trying to do is put together an agreement that protects our people, respects Iraq’s sovereignty. . . . [T]he goal is to have Iraqi forces responsible for the security of Iraq. . . . We’re not sitting here talking about an agreement to try to get out of a bad situation.  [The agreement] builds on the success we have had in the last year. This agreement is based on success.”

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Given Maliki’s repeated statements, we had no choice but to accept a timetable.  And anytime I actually say something is a bad situation, you can bet that it’s a bad situation.

ZEBARI:  This decision (agreement) is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighboring countries have the right to ask for clarifications. . . . There are clear articles (that) say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries and we already did clarify this. . . . This agreement determines the principle provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the U.S. forces.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So does that mean that President Bush would rather win an election than lose a war?  That The Condi is a cheese-eating surrender monkey?

Something tells me that John McCain is about change back into Bitter Angry Man again.

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18 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:41 pm

Maliki Gets Bolder

Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki is getting bolder:  he wants American troops to leave, and to leave as soon as possible:

American officials privately admit being concerned that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become “overconfident” about his government’s ability to manage without US combat troops, according to an Iraq analyst who just returned from a trip to Iraq arranged by US commander General David Petraeus. . . .

Maliki’s new sense of confidence has been accompanied by a new political identity as a nationalist foe of the occupation, according to Kahl. “He is successfully fashioning himself as an Iraqi hero who kicked the Americans out. That makes him difficult to negotiate with.”

To make matters worse for the Bush Administration, Maliki also isn’t happy with some of its key allies:

One of the consequences of Maliki’s perception of the new power relations in Iraq is that he is even less inclined than before to make accommodations with former Sunni insurgents now on the US payroll in the militias called “Sons of Iraq”.

This last point tracks with Dr. Irak over at Abu Muqawama:

Dr. iRack has been warning for months that their were signs that the Maliki government was planning to turn on the sahwa/Awakening groups/Sons of Iraq. Maliki considers the SoIs thugs and terrorists who should not be accommodated. Dr. iRack heard this often and repeatedly during his recent Baghdad visit. In the past few months, there have been growing signs that Maliki and his allies are (1) stalling SoI integration into the Iraqi security forces; (2) collaborating with other Iraqi parties to limit political participation by sahwa groups; and (3) arresting SoI members or chasing them out of the country. Dr. iRack has also heard credible rumors that Maliki hopes that his provocative treatment of the SoIs will encourage them to start a fight, giving Maliki an excuse to bring the Iraqi security forces down on them. Hard. . . .This is a story that all Iraq watchers should keep a VERY close eye on. Maliki may be making his move.

It’s too early to tell whether Maliki is canny, overconfident, or suffering from hubris.  But it is increasingly possible that Maliki will settle the debate over a long-term American presence in Iraq sooner than anyone — including McCain and Obama — anticipated.

Hat tip: Vet Voice

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24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:15 pm

Brought to You by The Surge

It seems like every day, somebody — John McCain, George Bush, the Pentagon — manages to find something else that is a direct consequence of The Surge.  First it was the Anbar Awakening.  Then it was the Brits being able to pull out their remaining troops.  Now, Spencer Ackerman is reporting on a Pentagon press release crediting The Surge for lots and lots of little mini-surges:

“The coalition surge was one of many surges that have come to produce programs and progress across Iraq,” Perkins said. “The coalition surge has been accompanied by a surge in Iraqi security forces, a surge of support by the Iraqi people, a surge in political and governance progress and a surge in the revitalization of the economic sector.”

Look, I’m glad that the surge is working.  But about the only thing that these guys aren’t willing to credit the surge with is Maliki’s endorsement of Obama’s timetable.

Given all this happy surging, I started to wonder:  are there other things for which the Surge deserves credit?  I mean, why stop at Iraq’s borders?  So here’s my starter list: Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:48 am

McCain’s Hotel California Doctrine Unravels

Here’s the problem with my not watching enough tee vee.  Turns out McCain went on the CBS Early Show and talked to Harry Smith about the Maliki-Obama lovefest:

“One of the other things that (Obama) has said is that maybe the troops should be out within the next 18 months, an idea that Prime Minister al-Maliki basically agrees with,” Smith reminded McCain. “Maybe the surge, in fact, did work. Is it time for American troops to start coming home?”

“Well, Prime Minister Maliki agreed with President Bush that it would be conditions-based,” replied McCain, campaigning in Portland, Me. “If Sen. Obama had had his way, they’ve have been out last March, and we’d have never had the surge and we would have failed and we would have then faced enormous consequences of defeat, both there, and it would have–in Iraq and it would have affected Afghanistan.

“If we’d have chosen to lose in Iraq, we would have had a very serious problem, more serious problem in Afghanistan as well. So as Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday, it would be very dangerous to do what Sen. Obama wants to do, and he still fails to acknowledge that the surge succeeded… He said it would fail, and voted against it and railed against it….”

This is the best he could come up with?  His basic argument is that because Obama was wrong six months ago, he’s wrong now.  Therefore we shouldn’t withdraw.  That line of reasoning doesn’t just fly in the face of reality; it beats reality into a pulp.

Read the rest of this entry »

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21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:00 am

Will McCain Stick to His Plan?

No, not Iraq.  I’m talking more short-term.

News reports last week said that McCain planned to focus on domestic issues while Obama was on his trip overseas:

As Sen. Barack Obama takes a highly publicized trip abroad over the next week, Sen. John McCain plans to highlight his commitment to the nation’s domestic challenges in stops across the country….

“John McCain will be talking directly to home-town Americans about gas prices, job growth and the economy,” campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said Friday. “Of course, we expect there’ll be an implicit contrast between John McCain’s record and an Obama campaign trip designed to compensate for a slim foreign policy record and built around his own political ambitions.”

Well they got a contrast, all right, but not exactly the one they wanted: Read the rest of this entry »

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21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi and Iraq

Time to roll out a new feature here at Undiplomatic:  the diplospeak translator.  The idea is to take statements by U.S. government officials and convert them into plain English.  Allow me to provide an example:

DIPLOMAT:  We had a free and frank discussion.

TRANSLATOR:  The meeting involved a lot of screaming.  Toward the end we started throwing chairs at one another.

Our first subject:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, affectionately known around here as The Condi.

With Maliki-palooza breaking out this weekend, nobody seemed to notice that The Condi took time out from her busy golfing schedule Saturday to talk to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about her short game Iran and Iraq, among other issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

20 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 pm

If This Is A Retraction…

…then I’m the principal dancer for the Kirov Ballet. And you don’t want me to be that, trust me.

Today, the spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki issued a kinda-sorta-well-maybe-not-really retraction regarding Maliki’s statement to Der Spiegel yesterday that he has a crush on Obama supports Obama’s 16-month timetable for withdrawal.  Here’s Der Spiegel’s report on the walkback:

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had “misunderstood and mistranslated” the Iraqi prime minister, but didn’t point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki’s comments “should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates.” The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq. [Emphasis added.]

And then, a little later today, we learned how the statement came about:

After the Spiegel interview was published and began generating headlines Saturday, officials at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad contacted Maliki’s office to express concern and seek clarification on the remarks, according to White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Riiiiight.  No pressure there.  Maliki was spontaneously outraged that his remarks had been taken out of context.  And I will be performing at the Bolshoi in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet next week (as Juliet, of course).

So what are we to make of all this?

Pretend for a moment that you are the prime minister of a country that has another country’s troops occupying it visiting it.  Now imagine that, on the eve of a visit by that other country’s opposition candidate for President, you decide to express support for the opposition candidate’s plan to have his country’s troops go home.

You’re feeling good about yourself.  But then you get The Call.  Uh-oh.  The other country’s sitting government isn’t happy with you.  They want you to walk the statement back because, well, it basically took both the sitting President and his preferred successor and cut them off at the knees.

So what do you do?  You want to pacify your allies, but you also don’t want to take back what you said:  you really do want the occupiers visitors to go home already.  So you try to walk a line.  You have your spokesperson issue a “clarification.”  Except the clarification doesn’t clarify anything.  Instead, it muddies the waters further by never actually denying anything you said.  In fact, the only thing it states unequivocally is that you aren’t supporting any one candidate in the other country’s Presidential election — which was the one thing you didn’t have to clarify, given that you had made that crystal clear in the original interview.

Oh, and just to make sure everyone understands exactly where you’re coming from, you allow the statement to be issued not by your office, but by the public relations department of the troops occupying visiting your country.

I’m beginning to think this Maliki guy is a lot smarter than we thought.

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19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:27 pm

McCain’s Hotel California Doctrine

The McCain campaign, perhaps recognizing that their earlier statement on Maliki’s endorsement of Obama’s withdrawal timetable was a bit whiny, put their heads together and came up with something even worse.

Here’s Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s foreign policy advisor (WAIT — I thought McCain doesn’t have those!):

Last thing I remember, I was running for the door.
I had to find the passage back to the policy we spinned before.
‘Relax,’ said the Senator, ‘we are programmed to deceive.’
‘We can withdraw any time we like,
But we can never leave!’

Oh wait.  That’s not what Scheunemann said.  Here it is, once again via Marc Ambinder:

The difference between John McCain and Barack Obama is that Barack Obama advocates an unconditional withdrawal that ignores the facts on the ground and the advice of our top military commanders. John McCain believes withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground. Prime Minister Maliki has repeatedly affirmed the same view, and did so again today. Timing is not as important as whether we leave with victory and honor, which is of no apparent concern to Barack Obama. The fundamental truth remains that Senator McCain was right about the surge and Senator Obama was wrong. We would not be in the position to discuss a responsible withdrawal today if Senator Obama’s views had prevailed.

So, my friends, we’re not fighting in Iraq to protect our troops.  Oh no no no!  We’re fighting in Iraq so that we can leave with “victory and honor.”

In other words, we’re staying in Iraq so that we can never leave.

With abject apologies to the Eagles.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:32 pm

McCain Doesn’t ♥ Maliki (Or Our Troops)

As I noted earlier today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al Maliki has endorsed Barack Obama expressed support for Barack Obama’s sixteen-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic now has a response from the McCain Campaign:

“[Maliki's] domestic politics require him to be for us getting out,” said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The military says ‘conditions based’ and Maliki said ‘conditions based’ yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders.” [Emphasis added.]

So let me get this straight.

We invaded Iraq to stop them from producing WMDs.  When that didn’t work out, we retroactively invaded Iraq to stop Saddam from helping Al Qaeda.  And when that didn’t work out, we retro-retroactively invaded Iraq to give it a democratically elected government capable of making its own decisions.  And now that that isn’t working out, we have retro-retro-retroactively invaded Iraq to protect our troops in Iraq.

The McCain campaign’s new line of reasoning reminded me of something I read in a 2001 report by the UN on Responsibility to Protect.  R2P, as its supporters like to call it, came out of the immediate aftermath of Kosovo, when then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was concerned that that conflict had created a precedent for military intervention without UN sanction.  He thought that a set of guidelines might define clearly when military intervention is necessary and how it should take place.

The final report of Annan’s “International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” (which had the misfortune of being released on the morning of September 11, 2001) is still worth reading.  I suggest the McCain campaign might want to pay particular attention to the following passage:

The [military] operation must be based on a precisely defined political objective expressed in a clear and unambiguous [mission], with matching resources and rules of engagement…. Force protection for the intervening force must never have priority over the resolve to accomplish the mission. [Emphasis added.]

If you follow the McCain campaign’s logic, that is exactly where we are in Iraq, as of today:  we’re fighting a war to protect our forces fighting the war.

I have a slightly better idea.

Why don’t we protect our forces by bringing them home?  To paraphrase the McCain campaign, I think that that is what the voters “care about.”

Of course, not everyone in the McCain campaign is completely delusonal.  Ambinder also got an email from a “prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign.”  His response to Maliki’s statement was a bit more succinct (and colorful):  “We’re fucked.”

And that friends, is change we can believe in.

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