Analysis: Obama, Maliki see eye-to-eye

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  July 21, 2008 at 2:27 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- Far from embarrassing him before the American public and on the world stage, Sen. Barack Obama's visits to Iraq and Afghanistan so far have been exceptionally successful because he has displayed the very qualities he was supposed to lack the experience to have: a consistent and disciplined strategic vision.

Obama, D-Ill., who has a lock on his party's presidential nomination, hit Iraq running Monday morning. He met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and discussed his 16-month plan to fully withdraw all U.S. combat forces.

They certainly saw to eye-to-eye about that. Maliki stunned the Bush administration on July 7 by saying publicly he would refuse to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with Washington unless the White House committed to a deadline for a full U.S. troop withdrawal.

Earlier Monday Obama conferred in Basra with two senior Western commanders -- U.S. Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who leads Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and British Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner, who leads Multi-National Division-Southeast.

Obama has spelled out a detailed 16-month plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces and won a glowing endorsement from Maliki's spokesman.

Before Maliki's July 7 bombshell, Republican presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona and U.S. President George W. Bush thought they could hammer Obama on his recklessness in demanding a fixed timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Instead, Maliki's ultimatum has forced Bush and other U.S. leaders to swing Obama's way. Last week even the president publicly committed to establishing a "time horizon'' to cut down U.S. troop levels in Iraq, although he is still hanging short of a full pull-out timetable.

On "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., a prominent Obama supporter and one of the front-runners to be his vice presidential running mate, claimed, "Maliki, (and) even President Bush are moving toward Barack Obama's position."

It remains to be seen how Obama's discussions will play with the American public. The latest ABC poll showed respondents still trusting McCain on foreign policy over Obama by a 16-point margin, 72 percent to 56 percent, although Obama, despite only four years in the Senate, has still managed to win a clear majority on that issue.

Still, in Afghanistan on Sunday, Obama shot down the critics who claimed all he wants to do is abandon U.S. commitments around the world. There are already 36,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. The presumptive Democratic Party nominee for the presidency of the United States pledged to add 10,000 more.

On Pakistan, Obama pledged to put intensified pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to crack down hard on al-Qaida and the Taliban.

However, Obama still has plenty of challenges ahead. He has to navigate the complexities of Iraq and the Israeli-Arab conflict in his upcoming visits to Jordan and Israel this week. Then the spotlight will be on him in Britain and France. And the stakes keep getting higher for him in Berlin, where his trip is to climax with an oration clearly modeled on those of his hero, President John F. Kennedy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively banned Obama from echoing Ronald Reagan by speaking at the Brandenburg Gate. Now his plan to speak beneath the Golden Angel statue at Berlin's Siegessaule (Victory Column) has revived the embarrassing memory that it was Adolf Hitler who moved it there as a symbol of Nazi victory and global supremacy.

Obama may yet transcend that embarrassment, too. He certainly has beaten the odds so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is, of course, far too soon to say how successful his stated policies would be if or when they would be applied in the real world. But he certainly has presented them in a sustained and credible way on his travels up until now, when so many were sure he could not.

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