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Cheney's Not-So-Soothing Presence

Amit R. Paley writes in The Washington Post: "Maliki's comments appeared to be an attempt to extract further concessions from American officials, less than a week after both sides said they had agreed to remove all U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, if the security situation remained relatively stable, but leave other American forces in place. The U.S. plan is to leave as many as 40,000 troops to continue to assist Iraq in training, logistics and intelligence for an undefined period. . . .

"Underlying Maliki's remarks is the political reality that he must sell the accord to a fractious political establishment and the Iraqi public, which to a large extent views the U.S. military presence as an occupation that should end as soon as possible. . . .

"U.S. officials . . . have signaled willingness to compromise with Maliki's government in order to sign an agreement by the end of President Bush's term. There is additional pressure because the United Nations' authorization for American troops to remain in Iraq expires at the end of the year; if no accord is signed before then, U.S. troops will have no legal basis to remain in the country."

The Financial Times editorial board notes that "only a month ago the Bush administration was furiously opposed to a time-table, insisting it would reflect an admission of defeat and play into the hands of its enemies.

"Faced with a surge of Iraqi nationalism, however, it has agreed to a plan that looks embarrassingly closer to the position of Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, than to the 2013 withdrawal date supported by John McCain, his Republican rival."

The Boston Globe editorial board writes: "If Bush continues refusing to accept the timetable that Iraqis want, he will make a mockery of his claim to have invaded and occupied Iraq in order to spread democracy there. Iraqis have pretty well crushed Al Qaeda with American help, and they are beginning to sort out their factional power struggles. If they want a sure date for US withdrawal, they should get it. Otherwise, Bush will only vindicate those critics of the war who said he invaded Iraq to establish permanent military bases and gain control of the country's enormous oil reserves."

The USA Today editorial board writes: "Obscured by the Olympics and U.S. presidential politics, the situation in Iraq could be reaching another turning point. The United States needs to disengage in a way that preserves American security interests and hard-won gains. But if the Iraqi people want a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, and the American people want U.S. forces out, it will be increasingly awkward for Bush or his successor to argue that they should stay a day longer than they're welcome."

Iraqi Storm Watch

Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl write in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "There is a gathering storm on Iraq's horizon. Over the last several weeks, its central government has embarked on what appears to be an effort to arrest, drive away or otherwise intimidate tens of thousands of Sunni security volunteers -- the so-called Sons of Iraq -- whose contributions have been crucial to recent security gains. After returning from a trip to Iraq last month at the invitation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, we are convinced that if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his advisors persist in this sectarian agenda, the country may spiral back into chaos. . . .

"The 'surge' strategy in Iraq, as described by President Bush in January 2007, rested on the belief that tamping down violence would provide a window of opportunity that Iraq's leaders would use to pursue political reconciliation. But this has not occurred, despite the dramatic security improvements. Indeed, if the problem in 2006 and 2007 was Maliki's weakness and inability to pursue reconciliation in the midst of a civil war, the issue in 2008 is his overconfidence and unwillingness to entertain any real accommodation with his political adversaries. America's blank check to the Iraqi government feeds this hubris."

North Korea Watch

Barbara Demick writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Less than two months after it blew up the cooling tower of its main nuclear plant in a televised spectacle, North Korea announced that it has suspended the dismantlement of its nuclear program.

"North Korea's foreign ministry said Tuesday it was responding to the United States' failure to live up to its promises of removing it from a blacklist of 'terror-sponsoring' states. It said the suspension had taken place as of Aug. 14 and that it would next consider restoring some of what it had dismantled already at its main nuclear compound in Yongbyon. . . .

"This latest development is a blow to the Bush administration's dream of claiming for his legacy the removal of the North Korean nuclear threat. The spectacular demolition of the cooling tower, which was witnessed by a State Department official and a CNN crew on June 28, raised hope that the long-running tussle over nuclear dismantlement might be coming to a conclusion."

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