- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sen. John McCain on Tuesday ridiculed Sen. Barack Obama for scrubbing his campaign Web site of past criticisms about the U.S. troop “surge” into Iraq, and lashed his Democratic presidential opponent for laying out strategies on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before consulting with military leaders on the ground.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama slammed his Republican opponent as having only a “strategy for staying in Iraq,” and declared that “the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq - and it never was.” His assertion, however, runs counter to the view of the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom the senator praised.

For a second straight day, the two candidates went toe to toe on Iraq and Afghanistan, this time laying out comprehensive strategies for each. While the two agreed that more troops need to be deployed in Afghanistan - and both criticized President Bush’s handling of the war there - Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama differed sharply on Iraq, and neither budged from his hard-line stance.

“I strongly stand by my plan to end this war,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. “This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities that we could seize.”

The Illinois Democrat has called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by summer 2010.

“George Bush and John McCain don’t have a strategy for success in Iraq; they have a strategy for staying in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. McCain, who has been to Iraq eight times since the war began and has visited Afghanistan several times, fired back in his own speech during a town-hall meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. He said Mr. Obama should wait until after he travels to Iraq, his first trip there in nearly three years, and makes his first visit to Afghanistan.

“He is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time,” the Arizona Republican said.

Needling the first-term senator, Mr. McCain - a lawmaker for 25 years and a longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee - added, “In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy.”

Mr. McCain pointed out that both he and Mr. Obama “agreed the Bush administration had pursued a failed strategy [in Iraq] and that we had to change course,” but said they differed dramatically 18 months ago about how best to proceed.

“I called for a comprehensive new strategy - a surge of troops and counterinsurgency to win the war. Senator Obama disagreed. He opposed the surge, predicted it would increase sectarian violence, and called for our troops to retreat as quickly as possible,” said Mr. McCain, who staked his political future on the surge’s success last summer and plummeted in the polls before winning the Republican nominating contests.

“The surge has succeeded. And because of its success, the next president will inherit a situation in Iraq in which America’s enemies are on the run and our soldiers are beginning to come home,” he said in Albuquerque.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the McCain campaign sent reporters an e-mail headlined, in capital letters, “Barack Obama ‘refining’ Iraq position on own Website.” The dispatch cited a New York Daily News report that the Obama campaign had removed from his Web site the statements that he would “immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq” and that the surge of more than 20,000 U.S. troops into Iraq was “The Problem.”

“The surge is not working,” Mr. Obama’s old site stated. The page posted Sunday night said there is an “improved security situation” in Iraq, but makes no mention of the surge, which even top Democratic leaders have acknowledged reduced violence and restored security to the nation.

Mr. Obama had repeatedly rejected the surge, saying shortly after Mr. Bush announced it in January 2007: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. … In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

The earlier Web page also said, “Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq.” The new page says, “The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased.”

Obama spokeswoman Wendy Morigi told the Associated Press that the changes were made to reflect current conditions.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama repeated many of the core proposals on Iraq that he made in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Monday, but added that he does not think Iraq is a “central front.” Gen. Petraeus, though, said in April 2007 that “Iraq is, in fact, the central front of al Qaeda’s global campaign.”

Former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, who served on the Sept. 11 commission and introduced Mr. Obama on Tuesday, also has called Iraq “a central front” in the war on terror, although he thinks Afghanistan is another front in that war.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Obama tied the withdrawal of troops from Iraq to a renewed effort in Afghanistan. “Now is the time for a responsible redeployment of our combat troops that pushes Iraq’s leaders toward a political solution, rebuilds our military, and refocuses on Afghanistan and our broader security interests,” he said.

On this topic, the two candidates agreed. Mr. McCain criticized the effort in Afghanistan, saying, “The status quo is not acceptable.”

He said the war needs to be overseen by a single commander, rather than having three different military combatant commands along with NATO leaders giving orders.

“This is no way to run a war. The top commander in Afghanistan needs to be just that: the supreme commander of all coalition forces,” he said.

But he connected success in Iraq with new efforts in Afghanistan, and said thousands of soldiers will soon be able to deploy to Afghanistan.

Mr. McCain said the war in Afghanistan needs the same type of integrated plan to establish security for civilians that Gen. Petraeus is employing in Iraq. He also said Afghanistan needs to follow the lead of Iraq and quickly train its own troops, doubling the size of the Afghan army to 160,000.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and security at home cannot be achieved “unless we change our Pakistan policy.”

“We must expect more of the Pakistani government,” he said. “The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president, I won’t.”

Two blocks from where Mr. Obama delivered what his campaign called a “major foreign policy speech,” Mr. Bush held a press conference and discussed Afghanistan.

The president said Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan has allowed Islamic extremists to cross into the war zone, and said his administration is investigating reports that Pakistani agents have been involved in attacks in Afghanistan, including a suicide car bomb at the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 58 people.

“No question, however, that some extremists are coming out of parts of Pakistan into Afghanistan. And that’s troubling to us, it’s troubling to Afghanistan, and it should be troubling to Pakistan,” Mr. Bush said.

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