President Obama said all the right words during Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to the White House this week:
On Monday, the Obama administration announced plans to sell an additional 18 F-16 jets to Iraq to patrol its vulnerable airspace, raising the total to be sold to 36 for about $5.3 billion.
Both leaders also cited the thousands of Iraqis and Americans killed in a conflict that deposed Saddam Hussein but also set in motion a sectarian conflict suppressed for decades by his brutal rule.
“They are the reason that we can stand here today,” Obama said. “And we owe it to every single one of them — we have a moral obligation to all of them — to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.”
The president – who as a candidate was critical of the decision to violently depose Saddam Hussein – was more diplomatic as the final US troops prepare to depart:
“History will judge the original decision to go into Iraq.”
“But what’s absolutely clear is, as a consequence of the enormous sacrifices that have been made by American soldiers and civilians — American troops and civilians — as well as the courage of the Iraqi people, that what we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self-governing, that is inclusive and that has enormous potential,” he said. “There are still going to be challenges.”
History, as the president ought to know, belongs to those who show up and follow-through.
President Obama also recognized that there are “tactical differences” between himself and the Iraqi premier. As well he might:
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has moved swiftly to consolidate power in advance of the American military withdrawal, offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s post-American identity may take shape, by rounding up hundreds of former Baath Party members and evicting Western companies from the heavily fortified Green Zone.
As Mr. Maliki met with President Obama in Washington on Monday to discuss Iraq’s future after the end of a painful nearly nine-year war, his aggressive actions back home raised new concerns in the West, where officials have long been uneasy with the prime minister’s authoritarian tendencies.
The actions also underscored the many lingering questions about America’s uncertain ally, a prime minister who once found refuge in Syria and Iran and who will now help write the epitaph to the American invasion…
Mr. Maliki has also taken steps to put his stamp on the Green Zone, the physical center of government whose geography and very name became shorthand for the cloistered American presence. His son, Ahmed, has overseen raids evicting Western companies from the Green Zone in recent weeks. As the prime minister left for the United States, onerous new security procedures were put in place at the few entrances into the area.
That, and the scale and secrecy of the arrests in October and November, of 600 former Baathists, have raised new tensions in Iraq’s suspicious political atmosphere. They have fanned fears that Mr. Maliki will use the threat of terrorism and unrest as a pretext to strike political foes.
Out with the old boss, in with the new boss. Same as the old boss?
We’ll soon see.