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Picking the people was the easy part.

President-elect Obama and his new national security team will now turn to a world full of vexing, linked problems on every continent, and tricky, early choices. From the speed of withdrawal from Iraq to the speed of investment in Afghanistan, from Kashmir to Moscow, Obama will make some of his most important choices early. Here are some of the toughest.

IRAQ

The war in Iraq, and the promise of a radically different approach to it, helped make Obama president. But he will arrive in the White House with his predecessor having already negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement providing for a timeline for withdrawal from the country, the core of Obama’s campaign promise.

The agreement “points us in the right direction,” Obama told reporters in Chicago Monday.

The most rapid pace contemplated is Obama’s campaign plan to have all American combat troops out of Iraq 16 months after he was sworn-in — that is, by May of 2010. The U.S. agreement with the Iraqi government ensures American troops will be out by the end of 2011.

“The question is how much, if at all, do you deviate from the agreement that’s been negotiated and passed in Iraq,” said Anne Marie Slaughter, the dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “Does that agreement supersede what President Obama said when he was candidate Obama?”

Slaughter pointed to Obama’s decision to retain the defense secretary who played a key role in negotiating the agreement as a sign that he’s likely to conform his own policy to its timeline.

But he’ll face pressure from both sides. Iraq remains a violent and unpredictable place, with suicide bombers killing at least 31 Iraqis in two attacks Monday.

And the Status of Forces Agreement likely means that as Obama takes office, American commanders will be adjusting to a new paradigm in which they shift more of the burden to Iraqi units, allowing them to take the lead and, at times, to fail in battles with insurgents. He’s likely to face intense internal debates over how involved the United State should be on a day-to-day basis, and pressure from the Iraqi government to help in some places, and step back in others.

But Obama said repeatedly during the campaign that his 16-month timeline was realistic, and many of his supporters seen no reason to dally. What’s more, the troops and materiel are needed elsewhere.

In Chicago Monday, Obama told reporters that the Status of Forces Agreement indicates that the United States is “now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq.”

“The challenge for him is going to be determining the slope of that glide path,” said Shawn Brimley, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.”

AFGHANISTAN

General James Jones, the president-elect’s National Security Advisor, drew attention recently for stating emphatically that international forces were “not winning in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, there’s a wide consensus that the situation in the country that launched the 9/11 terror attacks is a mess: The Taliban is resurgent on the ground, corruption is rampant, and opium is the national industry. Meanwhile, the multinational force patrolling the country opposing them is adrift.

“There been no unifying strategy,” said Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation. “NATO operates its own way, every country operates its own way, the State Department and the Defense Department don’t agree.”

Part of the answer seems to be more Western troops. Obama’s advisors hope a new, pro-American mood will encourage European and other allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. And Obama has backed sending two or three more American brigades to the country, though the rate of that increase will be dictated by how fast Americans can leave Iraq.

Obama will also be briefed on a new Afghanistan strategy prepared by the military, the contours of which Gates outlined in a speech in Canada last week.

“All of us agree that one of our most important, and maybe the most important, objective for us in 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election,” Gates said.

That likely means an urgent new focus on Afghanistan, to make it – at least – secure enough to hold an election at the end of next year.

But skeptics warn that Afghanistan has bled dry other occupiers, and that the U.S. should be realistic about its goals.

“Success is not going to be the creation of a secular, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan,” said Coll, who said a new U.S. policy will likely include a massive investment in training the country’s army and police.

“That’s the ticket home – that’s the ticket to his reelection in 2012 and getting American troops out of direct action by then,” Coll said.

PAKISTAN

The potentially catastrophic aftermath of the terrorist siege in Mumbai last week could instantly jump to the top of Obama’s list of crises to deal with – depending on how India and Pakistan respond in the 50 days before he takes the oath of office.

It falls to the Bush administration – which sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region Monday – to try to keep the two South Asian rivals from moving back to the brink of war. U.S. officials so far seem to be succeeding in persuading Pakistan to fully cooperate in tracking down those responsible for the attacks – and in restraining India from responding with provocative military gestures.

But both countries will be looking for Obama to signal how he will manage what will still be, at best, a perilously tense situation. And Obama’s options, as always in South Asia, are fraught with danger. Will he push a new and fragile Pakistani government – as he suggested in the campaign – to crack down further on terrorist groups? Will he back off the Bush administration’s increasingly aggressive use of military strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements on Pakistani soil?

Even more important, given preliminary indications that the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba may be implicated in the Mumbai attacks, could Washington get more involved in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the long-held grievances of India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir?

“In order to start to get Pakistanis to focus on the insurgent groups, you need to have them start to feel less paranoid about India, and the way to do that is to start dealing with the Kashmir issue,” said Caroline Wadhams, a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.

“His team has talked about the need to start working on the Kashmir issue. There’s a big debate over whether the U.S. can even play a positive role in that. They will have to decide how hard they have to push that issue.”

Look for Vice President-elect Biden to play a key role on this one – he has significant and important contacts in both countries. And if Obama needs any reminding about the potential peril posed by a Kashmir-fueled conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals, his nominee to be secretary of State should be able to attest. Hillary Clinton’s husband once called Kashmir, “the most dangerous place on earth.”

GUANTANAMO

An easier decision for Obama is one that he widely talked about during the campaign and confirmed during his recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” – his intention to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama said.

There is a wide bipartisan consensus that the Gitmo should be closed. And politics would be pushing Obama to make the move even if the merits of the decision were not completely compelling. Many of his initial foreign policy and national security appointments – Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the retention of Bob Gates at the Pentagon chief among them – have caused grumbling within Obama’s base of support on the Democratic left.

But closing Gitmo could very well open a Pandora’s Box that could overwhelm both the political and diplomatic benefits that the action would doubtless bring for the new administration.

As in – where do the roughly 250 prisoners being held at Guantanamo go?

Some could be repatriated – but that likely will mean intensive diplomacy by the young administration at a time when it is tending to a number of other foreign policy brushfires. And if some countries do accept detainees – China is one example – what kind of treatment awaits them when they return?

Furthermore, if some are kept in the U.S., as they most certainly will be, can they successfully be prosecuted, given the extreme and extraordinary circumstances surrounding their incarceration at Guantanamo?

The possibility that a future terrorist act could result from a current Guantanamo detainee being freed is truly the stuff of nightmares for the new Obama national security team.

MISSILE DEFENSE

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev put his country firmly on Obama’s agenda by attacking the president-elect the day after his election.

He and Vladimir Putin have also made a specific demand: That Obama scrap plans to set up a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama has been a skeptic of missile defense, raising doubts primarily about whether the technology is ready. He’s also signaled that he would like to work more closely with Russia on a range of other issues, beginning with nuclear proliferation. However, he and his advisors are skeptical of Russia’s autocratic leaders.

Hawks want Obama to signal that he’s taking a tough line, and that he won’t be intimidated by Russia. Moscow would like him to put missile defense on a back burner before they arrive at the negotiating table.

Some arms control advocates see a middle ground: Obama can continue to question the system’s technical capacity, making space to negotiate.

“A decision on new deployments of strategic missile interceptors can be deferred until the system is proven effective through realistic tests and has the full support of U.S. allies,” Daryl Kimball, the president of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Washington Times last month.

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Ayman al-Zawahri used the words of Malcolm X, right, against President-elect Barack Obama.

Ayman al-Zawahri used the words of Malcolm X, right, against President-elect Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON — In a propaganda salvo by Al Qaeda aimed at undercutting the enthusiasm of Muslims worldwide about the American election, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy condemned President-elect Barack Obama as a “house Negro” who would continue a campaign against Islam that Al Qaeda’s leaders said was begun by President Bush.

Appealing to the “weak and oppressed” around the world, the Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a video released Wednesday that the “new face” of America only masked a “heart full of hate.”

For years, the terrorist network sought to fuel anti-Americanism with prolific audio and video recordings vilifying President Bush as the leading American “crusader” against Muslim nations. The election of Mr. Obama, a black man who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and whose father was from a Muslim family, has muddied Al Qaeda’s message.

The Qaeda leader described the victory by Mr. Obama, who has called for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, as the American people’s “admission of defeat in Iraq.” But he warned Mr. Obama that the United States risked a reprise of the Soviet Union’s failures in Afghanistan if the president-elect followed through on pledges to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan to carry on the fight against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

And in a blunt personal attack on the incoming president, Mr. Zawahri painted Mr. Obama as a hypocrite and a traitor to his race, comparing him unfavorably with “honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader.

The Qaeda video, provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Web sites, drew extensively on archival film of Malcolm X, and much of the message juxtaposes a still picture of Mr. Obama wearing a yarmulke during a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with a photo of Malcolm X kneeling in prayer at a mosque.

The video shows Malcolm X speaking about the docile “house Negro,” who he said “always looked out for his master,” and the “field Negro,” who was abused by whites and was more rebellious. The video also insulted two prominent black diplomats, the former and current secretaries of state, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

“And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning ‘house Negroes’ are confirmed,” Mr. Zawahri said, according to an English-language transcript, which SITE says was provided by As-Sahab, a Qaeda media outlet that produced the video. In the original Arabic, according to SITE, the words used are “house slave.”

The video by Mr. Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who has long been Al Qaeda’s second-ranking operative, contains no specific warning of an attack against the United States. But he tells his followers that America “continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses.”

American officials said they believed that the video was authentic.

American antiterrorism officials and other experts dismissed the video as a desperate tactic by a terrorist group that suffered a defeat in the global war of ideas with Mr. Obama’s election.

Read more….

qaedaobama_s_201108 By Walid Phares

Watch Al-Aqaeda tape

As observers were awaiting the release of the “official” al Qaeda position regarding the election of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States, seasoned experts on the Jihadist movement had little doubts as to the substance of the main message. As I have outlined in my appearances on Arabic television channels since November 4, Bin Laden or his second in command was expected to declare that their “Jihad” will continue despite the election of an African American President and despite Obama’s intention to withdraw from Iraq. Ayman Zawahiri did just that on Wednesday in his latest message to his supporters and his enemies: even if the war ends in Iraq, the global war will continue everywhere. […]

Read complete version

The al Qaeda’s number two had to address the election of a Black President of the United States because of the two massive changes this choice has brought to the Jihadist agenda: On the one hand, Obama is very popular in the eyes of international public opinion; on the other hand the President elect is planning on withdrawing from Iraq and pushing forward in Afghanistan. All this changes al Qaeda’s game. Zawahiri’s tape had to address these “challenges” as pressure was mounting among Jihadists to deal with this election. Hence, the main points presented by the audio message are as follows:

1. The election of Obama is a defeat to the United States in Iraq and a victory to the Jihadists

In his tape Zawahiri congratulates the Muslim world [..original message..]

In al Qaeda’s lexicon it is crucial to demonstrate to their supporters that it is “their” actions (terror in Iraq) which convinced, if not intimidated, American voters into voting against McCain and electing Obama. Zawahiri wants al Qaeda to be credited for the behavior of America’s voting majority in the same way it took credit for the change in electoral direction that took place in Madrid after the March 11, 2004 attacks.

2. A warning to Obama: Don’t send additional troops to Afghanistan

Zawahiri then sends a warning to President elect Obama: [..original message..]

If victory has been achieved by the Jihadists against the United States in Iraq by forcing the new Administration to pull out of that country, in Zawahiri’s mind, another defeat awaits America in Afghanistan according to al Qaeda’s latest message. The logic of endless Jihad seems to be that wherever American forces would be sent, the Jihadists will meet them for a fight until the US redeploys its contingents from around the world, back to “its borders” as previous al Qaeda messages have underlined.

4. The same US aggression remains

Concerned about the sympathy emerging from around the world and within the Muslim community regarding the new President, Zawahiri reminds his Islamist followers that “crimes have been committed and the mentality that produced them is still around.” He doesn’t want to see a shift in pubic opinion towards a “nicer” America. He says: [..original message..]

Clearly, Zawahiri is trying to draw red lines for the acceptance of Obama by the Arab and Muslim world. This audiotape is probably the prelude to a campaign by the Jihaidists to minimize Obama’s emergence and classify him as just “another US President, with a different face.”

5. You’re not real (Meaning not a real Christian)

Then Zawahiri begins the Jihadi deconstruction of Obama’s image. He declares:

“You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him). You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America. And so you promised to back Israel, and you threatened to strike the tribal regions in Pakistan, and to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, in order for the crimes of the American Crusade in it to continue. And last Monday, your aircraft killed 40 Afghan Muslims at a wedding party in Kandahar. As for Malik al-Shabazz (may Allah have mercy on him), he was born to a black pastor killed by white bigots, but Allah favored him with guidance to Islam, and so he prided himself on his fraternity with the Muslims, and he condemned the crimes of the Crusader West against the weak and oppressed, and he declared his support for peoples resisting American occupation, and he spoke about the worldwide revolution against the Western power structure. That’s why it wasn’t strange that Malik al-Shabazz (may Allah have mercy on him) was killed, while you have climbed the rungs of the presidency to take over the leadership of the greatest criminal force in the history of mankind and the leadership of the most violent Crusade ever against the Muslims. And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning “House Negroes” are confirmed.”

Zawahiri’s words are strong and are aimed at putting pressure on all those in the region who rushed to announce that Obama will radically change the “regime” in the United States. The number two of al Qaeda is painting the President elect as an opportunistic politician who used all three faiths to access power. One can see that Zawahiri is trying to achieve two goals: maintaining his own flock fully indoctrinated against Washington regardless of the change in the White House; and pressuring the radical clerics in the Wahabi and Muslim Brotherhood circles – who are welcoming Obama’s victory – into retreat from such “apostasy.”

Read whole analysis here

BERLIN, Nov. 19 — Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command used a racially demeaning term to refer to President-elect Barack Obama in a videotape released Wednesday, and said Obama’s election represented “the American people’s admission of defeat in Iraq.”

In the 11-minute video, posted on the Internet, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, repeatedly and unfavorably compared the first black U.S. president-elect to Malcolm X, the black Muslim leader and activist who was assassinated 43 years ago.

“You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X,” Zawahiri said, according to English subtitles of his Arabic remarks provided by al-Qaeda’s propaganda arm. “You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America.”

Zawahiri said Obama, Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “confirmed” Malcolm X’s definition of a “house negro,” a term the militant black leader often used to describe black leaders who were subservient to white interests.

The biting comments were the first time al-Qaeda’s leadership has reacted publicly to Obama’s election since he defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) two weeks ago. Some analysts said the delayed response reflected uncertainty within al-Qaeda’s ranks over how to respond, given that Obama is widely seen in the Muslim world as the mirror opposite of the group’s longtime archenemy, President Bush.

“Zawahiri and others in al-Qaeda recognize that Obama has a certain appeal, not just to Americans but to people in the developing world,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst and senior investigator for the Nine/Eleven Finding Answers Foundation. “They feel a need to dampen this sense and enthusiasm and excitement for Obama.”

Zawahiri, 57, an Egyptian physician, is the second-ranking leader of al-Qaeda, behind only Osama bin Laden. According to U.S. intelligence officials, he is believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan. He has distributed dozens of video and audio recordings in recent years, eluding capture despite a $25 million reward offer posted by the U.S. government.

In Wednesday’s video recording, Zawahiri welcomed the pending withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq but warned Obama not to send additional forces to Afghanistan, as the president-elect has pledged to do.

“If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them,” Zawahiri said, referring to the former president of Pakistan, who resigned under pressure this year. “And be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them.”

The video consisted of an audio recording of Zawahiri’s remarks in Arabic, with English subtitles scrolling underneath a still photo of the bespectacled doctor, dressed in white in front of a bookcase.

On the tape, Zawahiri is flanked by two separate photographs of Obama and Malcolm X. In his picture, Obama is wearing a skullcap and surrounded by Jewish leaders as he visits the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Malcolm X is shown on his knees, praying in a mosque.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States won’t see a change in American relations with the Taliban, a senior Taliban leader in Pakistan says.

“For us, the change of America’s president — we don’t have any good faith in him,” said Muslim Khan, a grizzled Taliban spokesman who is one of the most wanted men in Pakistan, in a rare interview with CNN. “If he does anything good, it will be for himself.”

With an assault rifle on his lap, Khan answered 10 written questions, sharing his view on a range of topics from slavery to Obama’s middle name — Hussein.

He spoke in the remote Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan, the site of frequent and fierce clashes between Pakistani troops and Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

There was no opportunity for follow-up questions.

Khan said Obama’s election may change conditions for black Americans.

“The black one knows how much the black people are discriminated against in America and Europe and other countries,” he said. “For America’s black people, it could be that there will be a change. That era is coming.”

He said he doubted Obama’s victory would lead to changes in relations between the United States and the Taliban.

Watch the Taliban spokesman on Barack Obama »

U.S. forces dislodged the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

America and its allies have battled the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan ever since, with fighting spreading across the border into Pakistan.

“American should take its army out of the country,” Khan said. “They are considered terrorists.”

Obama has minced no words in describing how he would administer U.S. policy toward the Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in August, Obama pledged to “finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

And the president-elect included a blunt warning in remarks on the evening of his election victory: “To those who would tear the world down,” he said, “we will defeat you.”

Khan noted that Obama’s middle name was fairly common in the Muslim world, referring to him at times as “Hussein Barack Obama.”

“If he behaves in the way of a real Hussein, then he has become our brother,” he said. “If Barack Obama pursues the same policies as Bush and behaves like Bush … then he cannot be Hussein. He can only be Obama.”

Source: CNN

Barack Obama toured Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus in July of this year.

Barack Obama toured Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus in July of this year.

American elections are a powerful drug: they bring delusions of omnipotence. All that talk of “change” and “hope” brings demands for swift action: “Do it now,” “first six months,” “hundred days.” The economic crisis may indeed demand speed, but in foreign policy the reality is that, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, President Obama will face the same challenges that President Bush did that morning. And none presents much opportunity for bold new initiatives.

That’s fortunate. Incoming presidents making big decisions in a hurry is a surefire recipe for error. Think JFK and the Bay of Pigs. More recently, George W. Bush’s reflexive ditching of the Clinton administration’s strategy on North Korea was a misstep it has taken years to retrieve.

The foreign-policy and national-security inbox shows that, even on pressing issues, Obama has the luxury of time. A quick overview:

Iraq. Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops. But that’s already getting under way. At issue still: the pace of the drawdown, a date for final disengagement and the number of U.S. troops who should then remain as last-ditch guarantors of a democratic government in Baghdad. No Iraqi politician is going to be able to engage seriously on those topics until after their own elections next fall.

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While McCain Backs Petraeus, General Sounds Notes That Harmonize With Democratic Nominee.

Gen. David Petraeus (WDCpix)

Throughout Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, the Republican nominee has wrapped himself in the mantle of U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, proclaiming himself the leading advocate of the former commanding general in Iraq who devised last year’s controversial troop surge. Yet during a talk Wednesday about Iraq at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington policy organization, Petraeus repeatedly made statements that bolstered the foreign-policy proposals of Sen. Barack Obama, McCain’s Democratic rival, or cut against McCain’s own lines.

Petraeus relinquished command in Iraq last month. He assumes responsibility for U.S. Central Command later this month, putting him in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia.

As a serving military officer, Petraeus attempted to avoid any explicit political discussion. “I’m not walking into minefields now,” Petraeus said, to laughter, when asked a question that referred to Tuesday night’s presidential debate. In fact, the general averred that he didn’t watch the debate.

Yet Petraeus, whether intentionally or not, often waded into areas of dispute between Obama and McCain involving Afghanistan, negotiating with adversaries and other recent campaign controversies. Each time, the general either lent tacit support to Obama or denied tacit support to McCain.

Unbidden, Petraeus discussed whether his strategy in Iraq — protecting the population while cleaving apart the insurgency through reconciliation efforts to crush the remaining hard-core enemies — could also work in Afghanistan. The question has particular salience as Petraeus takes over U.S. Central Command, which will put him at the helm of all U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, thereby giving him a large role in the Afghanistan war.

“Some of the concepts used in Iraq are transplantable [to Afghanistan] while others perhaps are not,” he said. “Every situation is unique.”

Petraeus pointed to efforts by Hamid Karzai’s government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they are “willing to reconcile,” it would be “a positive step.”

In saying that, Petraeus implicitly allied with U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Last week, McKiernan rejected the idea of replicating the blend of counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “The word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ’surge,’” McKiernan said, opting against recruiting Pashtun tribal fighters to supplement Afghan security forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “There are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

McCain, however, has argued that the Afghanistan war is ripe for a direct replication of Petraeus’ Iraq strategy of population-centric counterinsurgency. “Sen. Obama calls for more troops,” McCain said in the Sept. 26 debate, “but what he doesn’t understand, it’s got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq. It’s going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.”

McCain qualified that statement in Tuesday’s debate, but clung to it while discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Gen. Petraeus had a strategy,” McCain said, “the same strategy — very, very different, because of the conditions and the situation — but the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq. And that is to get the support of the people.”

Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

All that was the subject of one of the most contentious tussles between McCain and Obama in the first presidential debate, with Obama contending that his intent to negotiate with foreign adversaries without “precondition” did not mean that he would neglect diplomatic “preparation.”

McCain, apparently perceiving an opportunity for attack, Tuesday again used Obama’s comments to attack his judgment. “Sen. Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions,” McCain said, referring to Iran.

Yet Petraeus emphasized throughout his lecture that reaching out to insurgent groups — some “with our blood on their hands,” he said — was necessary to the ultimate goal of turning them against irreconcilable enemies like Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Petraeus favorably cited the example of one of his British deputies, who in a previous assignment had to negotiate with Martin McGuiness of the Irish Republican Army, responsible for killing some of the British commander’s troops. The British officer, Petraeus said, occasionally wanted to “reach across the table” and choke his former adversary but understood that such negotiations were key to ending a war.

Petraeus reflected at length on the need to “take away and hold the strongholds and safe havens” possessed by Al Qaeda in Iraq during 2007 and 2008, saying that without doing so, the rest of the counterinsurgency strategy “won’t work.” While he did not initially make reference to Al Qaeda’s much greater presence in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, it was hard not to hear the overtones of the current argument over Pakistan policy between Obama and McCain.

McCain has attacked Obama for explicitly stating conditions under which he would order U.S. military action against the senior leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, deriding that by saying Obama is “going to attack Pakistan,” while advocating that the Pakistanis perform the task instead of U.S. troops.

[..]

Source: Washington Independent