- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WHITE HOUSE

Kissinger rips Bush, mum on Obama

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Tuesday called the Bush government “a failed administration” and said the United States and the world could not afford a repeat of the past eight years.

Mr. Kissinger, addressing a dinner in Washington celebrating the 50th anniversary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a Britain-based think tank, was asked to predict the Obama administration´s likely first mistakes in foreign policy.

While acknowledging that he supported Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, over Sen. Barack Obama, in the election, Mr. Kissinger said that Mr. Obama´s “success is extremely important to the U.S. and the world. We should not have another failed administration.”

Mr. Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, added, “I´ve taken a pledge not to criticize [the Obama administration] for a period of months. When a new administration comes in, they bring a lot of people who have thought of foreign policy in theoretical and abstract terms. They have to be acclimatized. They should be given the benefit of the doubt and the ability to develop their own ideas.”

AFGHANISTAN

Murtha skeptical about troop surge

Rep. John P. Murtha said Tuesday the situation in Afghanistan is so challenging that he estimated it would take 600,000 troops to fully squelch violence in the country.

The Pennsylvania Democrat, who chairs the powerful subcommittee that funds the military, said his figure was based on the country’s history of rigorous fighting and its size.

“That’s what I estimate it would take in a country that size to get it under control,” Mr. Murtha said in an interview.

Mr. Murtha also said he’s uncomfortable with President Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in the country by 17,000 before a goal was clearly defined. But he said he anticipates a plan will be developed to train Afghan security forces, and then the U.S. military will get out. He said he sees Afghanistan as more of a diplomatic mission than a military one.

“I think you’ll see a change,” Mr. Murtha said. “I’m confident you’re going to see them only adjusting for a short period of time with these additional troops.”

WHITE HOUSE

Obama restores species act rule

President Obama on Tuesday signed a presidential memorandum ordering federal agencies to revert to the original guidelines of the Endangered Species Act while they study the rule that President George W. Bush issued just before leaving the White House.

“The work of scientists and experts in my administration will be respected,” Mr. Obama said during a ceremony at the Interior Department, which was celebrating its 160th anniversary.

Mr. Obama said his memorandum would “help restore the scientific process to its rightful place in the Endangered Species Act.”

Without mentioning Mr. Bush’s name, the president said that process has been “undermined by past administrations.”

“We should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it,” he said.

Mr. Bush issued a decision in December removing a long-standing ESA obligation that federal agencies consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service before taking action.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama, Pentagon discuss lifting ban

The White House says President Obama has begun consulting his top defense advisers on how to lift a ban on gays serving openly in the military.

But the administration won’t say how soon that might happen or whether a group of experts will be commissioned to study the issue in-depth, as some Democrats have suggested.

The move enables Mr. Obama to say he’s making good on his campaign promise to reverse the ban but doesn’t lock him into doing so anytime soon. The carefully calculated statement, released this week by White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, leaves enough wiggle room to prevent the hot-button issue from consuming Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy agenda, which is dominated by ending the Iraq war and salvaging operations in Afghanistan.

“The president supports changing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ” Mr. Vietor said in an e-mailed statement.

“As part of a long-standing pledge,” Mr. Obama has begun consulting closely with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen “so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security,” Mr. Vietor said.

The statement was released in response to legislation reintroduced by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, that would repeal the ban.

HOUSE

Pickens’ wife calls for horse sanctuary

The wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens says her proposal for a wild horse sanctuary in the West would be good for the country and save the government close to a billion dollars over the next decade.

Madeleine Pickens told a House subcommittee on Tuesday that the proposed sanctuary for 30,000 wild horses would create a “living museum” for an icon of the American West.

The plan would prevent the “barbaric” slaughter of thousands of horses, Mrs. Pickens told the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

But a top federal official said the Pickens plan - initially welcomed as a way to save thousands of horses from being euthanized - is “problematic” and not viable as proposed.

“We really appreciate Mrs. Pickens’ proposal, but it has presented some problems,” said Ed Roberson, assistant director of renewable resources and planning for the Bureau of Land Management, which runs the wild horse program.

Mrs. Pickens’ plan for a million-acre refuge in Nevada includes a federal payment of $500 per horse per year - or $15 million a year for 30,000 horses - in return for taking the animals off the government’s hands.

SENATE

Health care bill target is summer

A key Senate committee chairman said Tuesday he wants a comprehensive health care reform bill on the Senate floor by early summer.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, set out the aggressive schedule after President Obama designated a White House health reform czar and nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Obama also made health reform a priority in his budget proposal last week and is preparing to host a White House summit on the issue Thursday.

All that sets the stage for Congress to transform Mr. Obama’s goal of universal coverage into legislation.

“There’s never been a better moment” for that to happen, Mr. Baucus said at a forum at the Kaiser Family Foundation, even while signaling that Mr. Obama’s outline of a plan is certain to undergo major changes before lawmakers are through.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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