- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday prodded Afghanistan and Pakistan to do more to combat al Qaeda and Taliban forces using those nations as bases of operations, as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee used a campaign-season trip to Afghanistan to bolster his leadership credentials.

In an interview with CBS, Mr. Obama said he is ready for the commander in chief’s role, and said the U.S. troops he spoke with during his two days on the ground don’t doubt he’s prepared.

“The people who are very experienced in foreign affairs, I don’t think have those doubts. The troops that I’ve been meeting with over the last several days, they don’t seem to have those doubts,” he said.

He and his traveling companions, Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, issued a statement calling for Afghanistan “to improve the lives of the Afghan people” in exchange for more U.S. and NATO resources.

In his interview with CBS, Mr. Obama also said aid to Pakistan would be conditioned on that nation taking more steps to combat terrorism.

“I think that the U.S. government provides an awful lot of aid to Pakistan, provides a lot of military support to Pakistan. And to send a clear message to Pakistan that this is important, to them as well as to us,” he said. “I think that message has not been sent.”

Mr. Obama is on a trip through the Middle East and Europe, including a visit to Iraq.

He has called for withdrawing one or two brigades per month from Iraq, which would end operations in about 16 months. He has said he would leave behind a security force.

This weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made comments that seemed to approach endorsement of Mr. Obama’s timetable.

German publication Der Spiegel said Mr. al-Maliki concurred when asked about Mr. Obama’s pledge to bring home troops at a rate quick enough to have most home within 16 months: “That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes,” the publication quoted the prime minister as saying.

An Iraqi government spokesman said the magazine “mistranslated” Mr. al-Maliki’s remarks, but didn’t specify the error, and the magazine stood by its interview, which was picked up by a Reuters report Saturday morning.

The statement seemed to catch the McCain campaign off-guard. Late Saturday a campaign adviser responded, saying Sen. John McCain remains committed to winning while Mr. Obama is focused on timetables.

On Sunday, top McCain surrogate Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, told “Fox News Sunday” that the only reason Mr. Obama was able to take today’s trip is because President Bush didn’t listen to the senator and other Democrats two years ago, when they called for an immediate end to the war.

“If Barack Obama’s policy in Iraq had been implemented, he couldn’t be in Iraq today … because he was prepared to accept retreat and defeat,” Mr. Lieberman said. “That would mean today al Qaeda would be in charge of parts of Iraq. Iranian-backed extremists would be in charge of other parts of Iraq. There’d be civil war and maybe even genocide.”

But Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said by that same logic Mr. Obama deserves credit for opposing the war from the start.

“Barack Obama was not for losing in Iraq. Barack didn’t want the war to begin with,” he said.

Also on the Sunday talk shows, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen said withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, and said a fixed timetable could be “very dangerous” for Iraq.

The McCain campaign jumped on the comments.

In a statement to reporters, foreign-policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said Mr. Obama’s plans put him at odds with Adm. Mullen and other U.S. military leaders.

“Barack Obama is wrong to advocate withdrawal at any cost, just as he was wrong to oppose the surge that has put victory within reach,” Mr. Scheunemann said. “It is a strategy for defeat, and it is the only strategy Barack Obama has ever supported.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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