The Washington Post leads with Barack Obama defending his plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq, despite Gen. David Petraeus’ opposition to setting any sort of timetable. Now that the Afghanistan and Iraq leg of his trip is behind him, Obama will shift focus and meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders today. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Obama saying he would work to bring Israelis and Palestinians together from “the minute I step into office.”
While Obama vowed to listen to military leaders when making decisions, he also said he won’t always follow their advice because the president needs to think of the “broader strategic framework.” Obama also acknowledged the “surge” in troops helped reduce violence in Iraq but said it was only one of several factors that led to the current situation. And when questioned by a television reporter, Obama said that even knowing what he knows now he would have still opposed the “surge.” John McCain’s camp was quick to respond, and said Obama “has made clear that his goal remains unconditional withdrawal rather than securing the victory our troops have earned and the surge has made possible.”
In an analysis inside, the Post makes the interesting observation that Obama has successfully “remade the campaign’s foreign policy playing field” by essentially declaring that “the war in Iraq [is] all but over.” With the improved security situation, Obama says that Iraq now needs “a political solution” and the United States must shift focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It seems the papers—perhaps due to Obama’s prodding—are finally spelling out that despite the White House’s insistence otherwise, the “surge” it hasn’t been the only factor that contributed to the decline of violence in Iraq. That should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the situation in Iraq closely, but there’s recently been a trend to oversimplify the drop in violence: before the increase in troops vs. after. Today, the Post notes that many in the military and intelligence communities believe “the drop was the combined result of a Shiite militia cease-fire and the rejection of al-Qaeda-allied insurgents by Sunni tribal leaders” as well as the troop buildup.
Now Obama will turn his attention to Israel and use the opportunity to try to bolster his popularity among American Jews. The WSJ notes that his “schedule tentatively includes meetings with virtually every senior Israeli leader.” But he’s also expected to meet with the Palestinian president in the West Bank, a trip McCain was criticized for not taking when he traveled to Israel in March. The NYT says that Obama’s planned meetings with leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide “could well present the most politically trying day of his weeklong overseas trip.”
The NYT publishes a front-page piece that asks whether Obama would be able to fulfill his promise to reduce health care costs enough to “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family.” Answer? No one really knows, but probably not. Even if Obama manages to push his health care changes through Congress, many think it’s unlikely those types of savings will actually materialize, especially in the first four years of an Obama administration. Part of the problem is that “it is not completely clear what he is promising,” notes the NYT.
The WP‘s Howard Kurtz points out that lots of attention is being paid to a series of McCain “verbal slips” in recent days. His reference to the “Iraq-Pakistan border,” the recent mentions of “Czechoslovakia,” and his now-infamous confusion between Sunnis and Shiites are leading some to wonder whether his age has something to do with it. At one point Kurtz makes what seems to be a clearly unfair comparison between McCain’s gaffes and Obama’s misspeaking episode yesterday—”Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.” Regardless, Kurtz does notes that some Obama supporters claim that if the Democrat made as many mistakes on foreign policy issues, the press would immediately claim them as examples of his inexperience.