The guy is smooth, very smooth: Obama Shifts the Foreign Policy Debate -- Candidate Moves Focus From Iraq To Broader Issues
Sen. Barack Obama, on his first and likely only overseas trip as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has remade the campaign's foreign policy playing field, neatly sidestepping Republican charges that he has been naive and wrong on Iraq and moving to a broader, post-Iraq focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In essence, Obama has declared the war in Iraq all but over. "There is security progress," he said during yesterday's news conference in Amman, Jordan. "Now we need a political solution." While a diminished U.S. force under his presidency would continue to protect U.S. personnel, target terrorists and provide training, he said, it would be up to Baghdad to consolidate the victory by "setting up a government that is working for the people."
Two days spent in Afghanistan and two days in Iraq, Obama said, reinforced his belief that it is time for the United States to move on. Calling the situation in Afghanistan "perilous and urgent," he said both U.S. military and Afghan government officials agree that "we must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation."
Obama's analysis has been buttressed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders who, to the dismay of the White House and Sen. John McCain, his Republican opponent, have publicly agreed with his call for completing a U.S. combat withdrawal from Iraq in 2010.
[T]he Iraqi government's newly stated position on troop withdrawals has put the McCain campaign -- and many congressional Republicans who have been on record opposing timelines -- in a difficult position.
In the Democratic primary campaign, Obama frequently noted that he had opposed the Iraq war before it began and criticized McCain's support of the 2003 invasion. But yesterday he largely ignored the question of whether he was against last year's troop buildup, except to say that "we don't know what would have happened" if his plan to begin a phased withdrawal last year had been implemented.
Although the White House has tended to describe the "surge" as the decisive factor in the sharp decline in violence in Iraq, others -- including many in the U.S. intelligence community and the military -- have said 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 deployment of more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops.
Obama referred to a withdrawal timeline as something now largely agreed upon by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments, saying he welcomes "the growing consensus."
[Omama called Afghanistan] the "central front in the war against terrorism."
[He said there is a] "need to refocus attention on Afghanistan and to go after the Taliban, including putting more troops on the ground, and to put more pressure on Pakistan to deal with the safe havens of terrorists."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an interview last night with PBS's "NewsHour," said he shares Obama's assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is "precarious and urgent." The 10,000 additional troops needed there, he said, would not be available "in any significant manner" unless there are withdrawals from Iraq.
For now, he said, "my priorities . . . given to me by the commander in chief are: Focus on Iraq first. It's been that way for some time. Focus on Afghanistan second."