- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama, under relentless Republican attack over inexperience on defense issues and reluctance to visit Iraq, moved to polish his national security credentials Wednesday by convening an advisory panel filled with former Clinton administration officials and Iraq war critics.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee met with the panel, dubbed the “Senior Working Group on National Security,” to fine-tune policies on war, terrorism and other global threats and to boldly challenge stances of his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“There’s going to be a clear choice in this election. John McCain wants to continue the Bush-Cheney foreign policy. I want to turn the page,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said as he opened the meeting in a ballroom of the Liaison Hotel in Washington.

Republicans faulted Mr. Obama for choosing a coterie of advisers that opposed and predicted failure of the counterinsurgency troop surge strategy in Iraq last year that produced military successes and reduced the amount of terrorist violence in the country.

They included former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, lead author of the 2006 Iraq Study Group report that recommended a redeployment of troops from Iraq, Obama campaign senior foreign-policy adviser Susan Rice and former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

“Why is he relying on advice from people that got it wrong on the surge?” Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said. “A photo op with a few hand-picked experts who he agrees with will not convince the American people that Obama has the judgment and experience necessary to be commander in chief.”

He said Mr. Obama’s meeting with Democratic Washington insiders was “no substitute for meeting with our commanders in Iraq.”

After weeks of Republican criticism for not visiting Iraq for nearly 900 days, Mr. Obama this week said he would go there before the election.

Mr. Obama insisted at the meeting that he was charting a new and more effective course for U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world.

“Instead of adhering to a rigid ideology, I want to get back to a pragmatic tradition of American foreign policy which has been so ably advanced by the people in this room,” he said. “A policy that’s focused on using all elements of American power to protect our people and to advance our interests.”

Mr. Obama accused the McCain campaign of using “the Bush-Cheney political playbook that’s based on fear” by saying Tuesday that Mr. Obama was stuck in a “Sept. 10 mindset,” the day before the horrific terror attack on the United States.

“I believe actually that I am very clear about the threats America faces, as do the people around this table,” Mr. Obama said. “And I think in fact it’s the failed policies of the Bush administration, the unwillingness to look toward the future, that is causing us so many problems around the world.”

Reporters were escorted from the room after the opening statement, and the meeting proceeded behind closed doors.

Clinton administration officials on the 13-member panel included Mrs. Albright and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and former Defense Secretary William Perry.

The group, which Mr. Obama said he would meet with regularly until the election, began to answer questions about to whom he would turn in times of crisis at the White House. It also sought to address criticism of his inexperience and foreign policy naivete, which were first raised during a grueling primary battle against Democrat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and now are echoed by Mr. McCain.

Mr. Obama said the criticism from Mr. McCain rings hollow for voters after nearly eight years of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy, especially the Iraq war.

“I think the American people recognize that after years in Iraq, thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions, soon to be trillions of dollars that we’ve spent in Iraq … that this was not a good approach,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Mr. Obama said he would pursue a “responsible paced withdrawal from Iraq, shift military resources to the Afghanistan war, forge new alliances to fight al Qaeda throughout the world and restore the rule of law to U.S. detention of terror suspects.”

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