Preview of the State of the Union Speech

I had the opportunity this afternoon to sit in on a conference call hosted by Brett McGurk, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan, who discussed the portion of tonight’s address that dealt with Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. McGurk described the broad outlines of the President’s speech. We took notes and asked some questions at the end.

The President will take us back to a year ago, when Al Qaeda in Iraq was on the ascendancy, the Shia militias were taking over neighborhoods with violence and mayhem, and Iraqi’s were dying by the hundreds. Today, Al Qaeda is on the run, the militias have stopped fighting, and casualties are down among the military and civilian populations. The Al Qaeda rat lines that used to bring in foreign fighters have been cut. A new offensive has begun in the last Al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul. It is too early to say that we have turned a corner, but we expect to see more and more good days and fewer and fewer bad days ahead.

He also said that by promising to be there for the Iraqi’s, by “proving our presence”, the population responded favorably. He scoffed at the recent Democratic claim that it was their call for withdrawal that drove the Iraqis politicians to implement political progress. (see Lorie Byrd’s post on Wizbang on 1/5/08 for details, and after the jump for a quote from Obama.) McGurk said that if you signal you are leaving, the Iraqis would retreat to their sectarian corners and refuse to negotiate. The notion that we can do less with fewer troops and things will get better is false.

Don’t expect any major initiatives on Iraq and Afghanistan in the speech, just a summary of what has happened and what it means for the future.]]>< ![CDATA[

Here’s what Obama said in one of the Democratic debates:

I welcome the genuine reductions of violence that have taken place, although I would point out that much of that violence has been reduced because there was an agreement with tribes in Anbar province — Sunni tribes — who started to see, after the Democrats were elected in 2006, you know what, the Americans may be leaving soon, and we are going to be left very vulnerable to the Shi’as. We should start negotiating now. That’s how you change behavior.

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