Members of Washington’s military and defense establishment are expressing trepidation about Sen. Barack Obama, as the Illinois senator comes closer to winning the Democratic presidential nomination and leads in national polls to become commander in chief.
But his backers, including a former Air Force chief of staff, say the rookie senator believes in a strong military, and with it, a larger Army and Marine Corps.
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“Any military person who concludes he’s a left-wing, hair-on-fire, Kumbaya child of the ‘60s has sadly misunderestimated him, to use George Bush’s term,” said retired Gen. Merrill McPeak.
Still, the mostly conservative retired officers, industry executives and current defense officials interviewed by The Washington Times cite Mr. Obama’s lack of experience in national security. They also point to his determination to pull American combat units from Iraq at a time when a troop surge has reduced violence, damaged al Qaeda and allowed the Iraqi government to progress toward Sunni-Shia-Kurd reconciliation.
“We’re very concerned about his apparent lack of understanding on the threat of radical Islam to the United States,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who is pro-Iraq war and a Fox News analyst. “A lot of retired senior officers feel the same way.”
Mr. Obama also has stirred concern in national security circles by pledging to talk to the leaders of rogue nations, such as Iran and North Korea, without preconditions.
His urging of the Bush administration to conduct air strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan without its approval is privately derided inside the Pentagon as the way to ruin relations with a good ally. Pakistan will not allow U.S. combat troops to operate on its soil.
Questions about Mr. Obama’s commander-in-chief qualifications have reached the campaign trail. The Obama camp Wednesday sent out one of its advisers, former State Department official Susan Rice, to respond to charges from Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, Mark Penn, chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, held a conference call with reporters to say the campaign will make the president’s role as commander in chief a top issue leading up to March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio.
Lawrence Korb, a military analyst at the Center for American Progress and one of a dozen or so national security advisers to the Obama campaign, rebutted the lack-of-experience complaint, saying neither President Bush nor John F. Kennedy could claim an extensive national security background before entering the White House.
Unlike Mr. Obama, though, both men served in the military.
“I think Obama would be very good.” Mr. Korb said. “I think the job of the commander in chief is to listen to all of the inputs he gets and then have a sense of world history and the way the world works, and to be able to apply the advice he gets from his military people. Remember, Obama was one of the first ones to support a larger military, a larger Army and Marine Corps, well before the administration did.”
Mr. Obama has visited Iraq and other nations as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member.
No other Obama proposal brings more military criticism than his plan to bring home one to two combat brigades per month from Iraq — meaning all such units would be out by the end of 2009, his first year in office.
A senior Pentagon official said an Obama swearing-in “will give the Arab street the final victory, the best optics, and the ultimate in bragging rights. They win. We lose.”View Entire Story
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