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First thoughts: Iraq is back

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Iraq is back: The Iraq war -- once the dominant issue in American politics, and the issue that helped propel President Obama to win the Democratic nomination -- returns back to the spotlight today, when the president unveils his plan for troop withdrawal from the country. Almost two years to the day he announced his candidacy for president, Obama travels to Camp Lejeune, NC, where he will say the U.S. will withdraw nearly 100,000 combat troops from Iraq by August 31, 2010. But aides admit that would likely leave a force of as many as 50,000, including some combat troops, in Iraq for another 15 months beyond the August 2010 date. Interestingly, the Obama plan has been criticized somewhat by Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and praised by Republicans like John McCain. "The convergence of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain on Iraq would have seemed highly improbable just a few months ago," the New York Times reminds us. "Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of being naïve and opposed his withdrawal plans. At one point, Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama 'would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.'"

Video: President Obama is expected to unveil his plan to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2010. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** A promise kept? So is Obama keeping his campaign promise on Iraq -- to remove all combat troops within 16 months? On the one hand, he certainly is setting a "date certain" for withdrawal, and 100,000 troops isn't a small number. On the other hand, it's 19 months (from the day he took office), not 16. And there will still be as many as 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq. But remember that he always said he'd consult with his military advisers to withdraw troops as safely as possible. "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in," he continually said during the campaign. So is the war over? Did we "win" the war? If you don't think we won, then did we lose? If you can't say we won or lost, then what happened? This will be what historians debate for years. Obama today will not say "Mission Accomplished," nor will he flash a "V" for victory. But unlike in 2007, Obama will talk about successes in Iraq, in addition to failures there. One thing to keep in mind: If it wasn't for Obama's opposition to the Iraq war from the get-go, he would never be president today; he might not have even won the Democratic nomination -- or even run. And by the way, don't forget this: August 31, 2010 is just two months before the midterms. Just sayin'…

*** In a battleground state of mind: With Obama traveling to North Carolina today, we've got to ask: Is he only going to hold events in battleground states, especially ones that turned from red to blue in '08? Already as president, he has visited -- in order -- Indiana, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Arizona (a state the Obama campaign would have targeted had McCain not been his opponent). Also, during the transition, Obama made a stop in Ohio. To be fair, he also visited his home state of Illinois earlier this month. But that's it.

*** The end of the Reagan era? Transitioning back to domestic politics, it's possible we may someday say the Republican run on dominating American politics -- which began in 1980 -- ended just after the 2004 elections (sometime in August 2005, when a certain hurricane came ashore in Louisiana, or perhaps a few months earlier when congressional Republicans took up the Schiavo issue). If Obama has ushered in an era of Democratic dominance, then we shouldn't be surprised by today's analyses about his budget, which all note how dramatically different it is from the Reagan-influenced budgets that even Bill Clinton continued during his eight years. Many see Obama's budget -- rightly so -- as a dramatic break from the last 30 years of government budgets.

Video: Deal to save Citigroup announced. CNBC's Melissa Lee reports.

*** Sim Citi: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration and troubled Citigroup have reached a deal whereby the government has taken a big stake in the banking corporation. The Treasury Department "has agreed to convert some of its current holdings of preferred Citigroup shares into common stock, a move that could better protect shareholders against future losses… The size of the government's new stake will hinge on how many preferred shares private investors agree to convert into common stock." The Obama administration believes it got these concessions in the deal: 1) a replacement of a majority of Citi's board; 2) the lowest conversion price, which was lower than other private investors converting their shares; 3) a dollar-for-dollar conversion with private stock, meaning that other investors also have to take a part in this deal; and 4) a requirement that Citi has to go through a stress test like other banks. 

*** Rich vs. poor: After previously writing about the GOP's new struggles in the Diploma Belt (the nation's best-educated counties), National Journal's Ron Brownstein now notes the different reactions the economic stimulus has received in poor and rich states. "No Republicans have been more vociferous in denouncing President Obama's economic stimulus agenda than the GOP governors of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, whose states respectively rank 41st, 49th, and dead last in median income," he writes in the latest issue of National Journal. "But here in dynamic Silicon Valley, the plan is receiving a much more enthusiastic reception. That difference speaks volumes about the two parties' shifting centers of gravity."

*** CPAC, Day 2: On the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in DC, the featured speakers are Newt Gingrich (noon ET), Mitt Romney (4:35 pm) and Mark Sanford (7:30 pm). Sen. John Cornyn (at 8:00 am), Sen., Jim DeMint (8:30 am), and Rep. John Boehner (8:50 am) have already spoken this morning. And check out these panels today: "Bailing Out Big Business: Are We All Socialists Now?" "Will Congress Take Your Guns?" and "Will Obama's Tax Policy Kill Entrepreneurship?" 

*** Rush returns: Tomorrow, on CPAC's final day, Rush Limbaugh gives the finale speech at the conference. And perhaps pegged to that, the liberal Americans United for Change and AFSCME have a new TV ad going up today (on national cable and in DC; read: a small buy) that criticizes GOP leaders for saying "no" to Obama's stimulus and ties them to Rush Limbaugh. The ad's narrator says, "Who are Republicans listening to?" Then you see a clip of Limbaugh saying, "I want [Obama] to fail." The ad concludes, "Tell them America won't take no for an answer."  
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 95 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 102 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 249 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 613 days

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