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McCain, Obama Trade More Jabs Over Foreign Policy

July 22, 2008 at 6:10 PM EST
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Sen. Barack Obama, on tour in the Middle East, and Sen. John McCain, on the campaign trail in New England, continue to spar over each other's Iraq policies and understanding of the situation in Afghanistan.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In Amman, Jordan, today, Barack Obama fielded questions from reporters, the first time the presumptive Democratic nominee has done so on his weeklong overseas trip.

Obama was joined by fellow senators Democrat Jack Reed and Republican Chuck Hagel, who are traveling with him as a congressional delegation.

The Jordan stop comes after visits by the senators to Iraq yesterday and Afghanistan over the weekend. Before leaving Iraq, Obama was briefed by the commander of U.S. forces there, General David Petraeus.

Obama said today he understands the apprehension Petraeus has stated about a timetable for removing U.S. troops, but noted, if he’s elected president, he would have to take into account other needs, like the hurting U.S. economy and the rising challenge in Afghanistan.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Ill.: If I were in his shoes, I’d probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander-in-chief extends beyond Iraq.

And so what we saw in Afghanistan, for example, where you’ve got a deteriorating security situation, and all the commanders uniformly indicated that two to three brigades would be extraordinarily helpful in allowing them to accomplish their goals, the only way we’re going to get those troops over there in a meaningful way is if we are taking them from someplace else.

So that’s something that I have to factor in. I have to factor in the perceptions of the Iraqi people and the statements by Prime Minister [al-]Maliki and his spokespeople in public, that they are ready to see the Iraqi government take on more responsibility for security.

So the notion is, is that either I do exactly what my military commanders tell me to do or I’m ignoring their advice. No, I’m factoring in their advice, but placing it in this broader strategic framework that’s required.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama was also pressed to describe what he thought the situation in Iraq would look like today if his troop withdrawal plan had been implemented instead of the surge.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We don’t know what would have happened if I — if the plan that I put forward in January 2007, to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation, to begin a phased withdrawal, what would have happened had we pursued that strategy.

I am pleased that as a consequence of great effort by our troops, but also as a consequence of a shift in allegiances among the Sunni tribal leaders, as well as the decision of the Sadr militias to stand down, that we’ve seen a quelling of the violence.

But as I emphasized a year ago, two years ago, and as I have to emphasize today, ultimately whether or not we’re going to have a functioning Iraq is largely going to depend on the capacity of the Iraqi people to unify themselves, to get beyond some of the sectarian divisions that have plagued the country, and to start setting up a government that is working for the people.

McCain sticks to his guns

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the United States, at a town hall in Rochester, N.H., this afternoon, John McCain once again slammed Obama's past and present positions on the surge.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Ariz.: If he would've had his way, we'd have been out last March. We would have never done the surge, we would never have succeeded, and we would have had defeat. And my friends, that would have been a catastrophe for the United States of America.

He was wrong then. He's wrong now. And he still fails to acknowledge -- he still fails to acknowledge that the surge succeeded, remarkable, remarkable.

And, as you know, he just received his first briefing ever from General Petraeus. And he declared his policy towards Iraq before he left, before he left.

And so the fact is, we have made progress, and we have succeeded, and we will be coming home, my friends. Our troops will be withdrawing, but they'll come home in honor and victory. They will not come home in defeat. They will come home with honor and victory.

And now he wants to reverse the gains we have made and set a date for withdrawal, which would endanger our progress in Iraq.

Now, the benefits of success are very clear to me. And that is we have restrained Iranian -- we will have restrained Iranian influence in the region, who, by the way, is still sending the most lethal explosive devices into Iraq, killing young Americans.

We will have a stable and pro-American and pro-Western government in Iraq. You will have seen -- we will see and are seeing economic, political, judicial progress in that country.

Now, they have a long way to go, and it's very tough and long and hard, but we have seen the prospects of success and the enormous reduction in violence, in sectarian violence, as the government takes and maintains control of Mosul, Basra and Baghdad.

So the benefits of the success are tangible. And we cannot let that all disappear by doing what Senator Obama wants to do. And this is a clear choice that the American people have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow, McCain will campaign in Pennsylvania while Obama plans to visit Israel and the West Bank.