President Obama was pretty subdued when talking about Iraq last night at his press conference. "We just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully and you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way," Obama said about last weekend’s provincial elections. "Relatively" is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Anbar Province, the former hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, is locked in a contentious inter-Sunni struggle over who in fact won the election, complete with competing accusations of vote fraud and intimidation. This New York Times piece gives a sense of the combustibility of the situation:

Mr. Taha, the winning candidate from Anbar, who was one of the front-runners on Mr. Mutlaq’s slate there, has served as a sports and youth adviser for the region’s governor and was, he claimed, a protégé of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday during the 1990s. (That the governor is affiliated to the Iraqi Islamic Party shows how convoluted politics have become in Anbar and elsewhere.)

He said his supporters had been threatened and beaten by police officers loyal to the Islamic Party — before the election and after. “People will be eliminated,” Mr. Taha, 37, warned.

And yet Taha is, by his own admission, hiding in a Green Zone hotel, "afraid" to go back to Anbar.

Now for a premature meta-point. For years, George W. Bush misrepresented the depth and the nature of violence in Iraq so as not to jeopardize his political standing and his desired course for the occupation. People didn’t like being lied to. Bush’s legacy and his party paid the cost.

This is a lesson Obama should really take to heart. Obama doesn’t want to be in the position of misrepresenting reality in Iraq so as to jeopardize a very desired troop reduction and then withdrawal. The same goes for progressives more broadly. Withdrawal is guaranteed by the Status of Forces Agreement. It doesn’t need a rosy portrait of the situation in Iraq. A million things can go wrong in Iraq. Nothing will go even close to right without a clear-eyed assessment of what the situation actually is. Frankly, if Bush gave the statement that Obama did last night, I suspect progressives would reject it as a sign of detachment from reality.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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President Obama was pretty subdued when talking about Iraq last night at his press conference. "We just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully and you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way," Obama said about last weekend’s provincial elections. "Relatively" is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Anbar Province, the former hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, is locked in a contentious inter-Sunni struggle over who in fact won the election, complete with competing accusations of vote fraud and intimidation. This New York Times piece gives a sense of the combustibility of the situation:

Mr. Taha, the winning candidate from Anbar, who was one of the front-runners on Mr. Mutlaq’s slate there, has served as a sports and youth adviser for the region’s governor and was, he claimed, a protégé of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday during the 1990s. (That the governor is affiliated to the Iraqi Islamic Party shows how convoluted politics have become in Anbar and elsewhere.)

He said his supporters had been threatened and beaten by police officers loyal to the Islamic Party — before the election and after. “People will be eliminated,” Mr. Taha, 37, warned.

And yet Taha is, by his own admission, hiding in a Green Zone hotel, "afraid" to go back to Anbar.

Now for a premature meta-point. For years, George W. Bush misrepresented the depth and the nature of violence in Iraq so as not to jeopardize his political standing and his desired course for the occupation. People didn’t like being lied to. Bush’s legacy and his party paid the cost.

This is a lesson Obama should really take to heart. Obama doesn’t want to be in the position of misrepresenting reality in Iraq so as to jeopardize a very desired troop reduction and then withdrawal. The same goes for progressives more broadly. Withdrawal is guaranteed by the Status of Forces Agreement. It doesn’t need a rosy portrait of the situation in Iraq. A million things can go wrong in Iraq. Nothing will go even close to right without a clear-eyed assessment of what the situation actually is. Frankly, if Bush gave the statement that Obama did last night, I suspect progressives would reject it as a sign of detachment from reality.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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