Without Delay

The national-security team had its meeting yesterday about the Iraq troop drawdown, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the withdrawal was “on target.” Apparently nothing that was said yesterday made the team think that the pullout should be delayed. Another administration official, Deputy National Security Adviser to the president Ben Rhodes said that “Iraq is on a positive trajectory.” The Iraqi army’s most senior general doesn't seem to agree. Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari doesn’t think the army is ready to take over from U.S. troops, and won’t be for a while: “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.” In his opinion, things are going well right now because Washington still has troops on the ground in Iraq. The real problems won’t surface until next year, when all troops are supposed to leave and “the politicians must find other ways to fill the void.”

National Security Adviser James Jones hinted on CNN that a meeting between President Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn’t totally ruled out. He said that “the door’s open” to a sitdown if Iran would agree to get back to IAEA talks, and maybe return three U.S. hikers. Ahmadinejad recently said that he was interested in a chat with Obama during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York next month.

Jones might not be around much longer than that anyway. The chattering classes are wondering how Obama’s national-security team will change after November’s elections. Jones has never been a great fit for the position of national-security adviser and his departure has been whispered about for a while now. A few people could step into the role: Jones’s deputy Tom Donilon, James Steinberg, Clinton’s deputy at State, or maybe James Cartwright, the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obama might also have to find a new secretary of defense, as Robert Gates has been itching to leave Washington.

At the end of last year START expired. Administration officials worked with their Russian counterparts to draw up a new START agreement, and that was finally signed by Obama and Medvedev in April. Problem is, the Senate has delayed a vote on the treaty until mid-September, after they return from break. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is getting a little antsy. Yesterday she said that “There is an urgency to ratify this treaty, because we currently lack verification measures with Russia.” She didn’t mince words: “When the Senate returns, they must act.” Some senators are concerned that the treaty could put a damper on U.S. missile-defense plans.