Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Iraq after leaving the reported final stop of his European tour, Turkey. Obama immediately remarked on how much work that remains to be done — which might beg the question why he’s so keen on leaving. One might also question why the AP buried that quote sixteen paragraphs between updates:
Obama spoke favorably of political progress but also expressed concern that recent gains could deteriorate with the upcoming national elections.
“It’s important for us to use all of our influence to encourage the parties to resolve these issues in ways that are equitable. I think that my presence here can help do that,” he said. …
En route to Baghdad, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama chose Iraq rather than Afghanistan for a war-zone visit in part because it was near Turkey and also because progress “lies in political solutions.”
“We spend a lot of time trying to get Afghanistan right, but I think it is important for people to know that there is still a lot of work to do here,” Obama said.
In the original report, that quote was in the third paragraph. Instead, the AP decided to move it far down into the story in order to emphasize Obama’s reception by the troops. In fact, Jennifer Loven uses the word “cheer” in one form or another three times, all before mentioning that a lot of work needs to get done.
For the record, I agree with President Obama on this point. The troops have performed magnificently, and have helped give birth to a new, democratic Iraq. In order to make sure that the new nation survives, we need to make sure that we don’t leave before the job is finished. We need to transition any combat and police tasks to the Iraqis as they grow in capability, and we can reduce troop levels while we focus on training, logistics, and air support. But we need to do those things as part of the natural flow of succeeding in the mission, not based on artificial timetables designed to pay off political allies.
If that’s what Obama means, then I’m happy to support that policy. Unfortunately, Obama has shifted too many times on Iraq to be sure what he means at any one time.