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Obama’s Trip Puts Focus on Candidates’ Iraq, Afghan Plans

Sen. Barack Obama is working on his foreign policy credentials by meeting with leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan this week. Policy advisers discuss how Obama and GOP Sen. John McCain are approaching the conflicts.

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    Barack Obama was in Iraq today, the second stop in an overseas trip highlighting the differences between him and his Republican rival, John McCain, over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Obama's meetings in Iraq were preceded by a weekend visit to Afghanistan, where he talked with U.S. troops and the country's president, Hamid Karzai.

    In an interview there on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday, Obama reargued his case for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq over a 16-month timeline, and adding troops to reinforce the effort in Afghanistan.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), Presidential Candidate: I believe U.S. troop levels need to increase. And I, for at least a year now, have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three. I think it's very important that we unify command more effectively to coordinate our military activities.

    But military alone is not going be enough. The Afghan government needs to do more, but we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front on our battle against terrorism.

    And I think one of the biggest mistakes we made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.


    McCain took issue with that today on ABC's "Good Morning America."

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), Presidential Candidate: Look, you don't have to choose to lose in Iraq in order to succeed in Afghanistan.


    At a campaign appearance in Maine this afternoon, McCain hammered away at Obama's approach to Iraq.


    We have to maintain the progress that we have. The major point here is, Senator Obama could not have gone to Iraq as he did because he opposed the surge. It was the surge that succeeded. It was the surge that — that has brought — that is winning this war. He opposed it. He said it wouldn't succeed. He has still yet to say that it has succeeded.


    The issue of when to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq has heated up in recent days. This weekend, a German magazine quoted Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, seeming to endorse Obama's approach.

    After the White House objected, a Maliki spokesman said the prime minister's words had been misunderstood and mistranslated. Yet, last Friday, the White House said President Bush and Maliki had agreed to come up with a time horizon for the goal of withdrawing U.S. forces.

    And, after Maliki and Obama met in Baghdad today, the prime minister's spokesman told reporters, "We are hoping that, in 2010, combat troops will withdraw from Iraq."

    McCain's stance appeared to draw support yesterday from Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on "FOX News Sunday."


    If I were to say to you, let's set a timeline of getting all of our combat troops out within two years, what do you think would be the consequences of setting that kind of a timeline?


    I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard. I'm convinced at this point in time that coming — making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important.


    This is the second week in which McCain and Obama have sparred directly over the link between the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. In a speech in Washington last Tuesday, Obama renewed his vow to quickly send two more brigades to Afghanistan.


    If another attack on our homeland comes, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned. And, yet, today, we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan. Senator McCain said just months ago that Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq. I could not disagree more.


    McCain replied that same day in Albuquerque with his first detailed proposal for Afghanistan, saying he would send three more brigades.


    Senator Obama will tell you we can't win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan. With the right strategy and the right forces, we can succeed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are not disconnected. Success breeds success. Failure breeds failure. I know how to win wars.

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