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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.

politico-logo

Jewish Rabbi Marvin Hier remembers Mumbai’s dead and Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and wife Rivka who were also killed in Mumbai at the Chabad House.

Well worth a listen to, the Rabbi goes on to make some pointed suggestions – on suicide attacks being dealt with at the UN. Part of the reason why it is not being dealt with there – is that world has gone out of its way to offer the Islamic religion special protection – but then if it continues to be used in this hateful and destructive way – Islam will inevitably lose some of its protection – as the world tries to deal with the phenomena of its teachings of death over life.

Freedom of religion – has to have its boundaries – if freedom of religion allows for other people to be harmed – then we must draw back some of that freedom.

With Islam there are two arguments – there is the politicly correct one that says there is the just a few terrorist – who are hijacking the Islamic religion’s good name. But this blatantly ignores history and ignores the teachings of the Koran and Islamic Holy books.

Then there is the more realist argument – which is stifled for the most part – which says whatever the Prophet did and what the Holy books say about jihad (97% Holy war), we live in the modern world and those kinds of practices – of killing mass amounts of people in order to convert them – through fear or terror – are no longer viable – are no longer useful.

When you look at the subject of Islamic terror realistically – then you can see the real problem that the Islamic world faces – on one side the Holy books issue commands to either convert or kill the infidel and on the other side they wish to live in the modern world and have the respect of others. The lesser option is to subjugate all of the non-Muslim world and make them pay a tax as penalty for not being Muslim.

I dare say that I have an inkling of suspicion that if these Islamic countries thought that they could win this battle – of jihad against the western world – then they would not only turn a blind eye to it – as they have been doing – they would encourage it – because if they won then that would put them in a dominant position. A kind of reverse colonialism.

Then you have the moderate verses in the Koran – which are used frequently in politically correct PR exercises mainly for the western audience. To save argument – in the west we get there is no compulsion to Islam – but in Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia it is a crime to leave Islam – and if you wish to do so you have to apply to the court – you will be locked-up , tortured or sent to re-education camps – while in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan you would be put to death — as you can see there is a kind of glossy reality – versus the real one.

Two things can happen – the Islamic world can continue its control of it people – and hope that the world one day sees sense in what they are doing and joins them – or they loosen control – and allow freedom of religion. And the actions of the terrorist might make this choice stark. If you have half the country believing that the penalty for leaving Islam is death – so they have already dehumanized the person who has made a conscious choice – there must be a fine line between thinking death for the person who leaves Islam and death for the person who refuses to take it up – like the Hindu – like the Jew – like the American Christian – in the Islamic world any one who wants to leave Islam – would be tortured, arrested, hulled into court (for carrying bibles in Algeria), so there is already an accepted level of intolerance for the non-Muslims among them – within th confines of the Islamic world – that then becomes the room full of oxygen that the Imam – can then light the spark to say go after the non-believer/infidel outside of our group. On the whole most of the people who are being killed in Islamic suicide attacks are Muslims – and that is because these Muslims have been deemed infidel or non-believers – and in the attacker’s mind should attacked in a similar way as you would do a Jew or Hindu or other.

But if the Muslim world would free the people – by allowing them to choose their own religion – then you break a part of the terrorist support system – as the state no longer supports the killing, torturing, and imprisonment of infidel – what the terrorist wants is for these controls over the Islamic populations to be strengthened – and in some cases they have – for example after the terrorist bombing in Mauritius – instead of fully cracking down on the terrorists and those who promoted it – they decided to change the law so that no one could be a Mauritius citizen without being a Muslim – so if you changed your religion – you could no longer legally hold citizenship there. Robert Gates actually has told the leaders that they need to get rid of this policy.

I am sure that terrorism is a great embarrassment to the Islamic world – it makes their countries look bad and it makes the religion look bad – the western world might have to depend on their shame to deal with the problem. To the point – Pakistan has these outback areas – that are sometimes surprisingly close to large cities – where these Taliban like militants go in and set up a mosque – everyone would automatically think – well this is a mosque – these people have their religion – but once the mosque is set up – then they preach every kind of religious hatred from the minaret – the girls schools in the area are threatened – either if they don’t wear head scarves – we will kill the girls, or f the girls go to school- we will kill the girls. Next the Pakistani army is no longer allowed to enter the town /region without a fight. To make deals with these guys they offer them Islamic or Sharia law in their areas – if they will stop the violence – and of course out of these areas come the terrorist who go down to India and go across to Afghanistan and kill and maim innocents there. Clearly a source of emarrassment for Pakistan.

Believe me these guys are reading the Koran – mainly in these Madrasses. The Pakistani government is respecting their religion – but under their idea of religious freedom – people outside of their beliefs should be killed – and this is where freedom of religion comes up against its limits – and therefore some of the respect for the Islamic religion should be withdrawn.

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Just days before he is expected to roll out his national security team after the Thanksgiving holiday, President-elect Barack Obama condemned Wednesday’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, which have killed at least 101 people, wounded 287 others, and left others held hostage.

“President-elect Obama strongly condemns today’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and his thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the people of India,” said Brooke Anderson, Chief National Security Spokesperson for the Obama Transition Team, in a statement released this evening.

The gunmen targeted Westerners in their assaults on luxury hotels, tourist hot-spots, and a train station in Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

“These coordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism,” Anderson said.

A senior Obama official told ABC News that the President-elect was following the situation closely and getting regular updates from his staff, as well as updates and information from the Bush Administration.

“The United States must continue to strengthen our partnerships with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks,” Anderson stated. “We stand with the people of India, whose democracy will prove far more resilient than the hateful ideology that led to these attacks.”

The Obama Transition Team has established a team to interact with the State Department and with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. An Obama aide says the Bush administration “helpfully provided regular updates through several channels.”

Source: ABC Political Punch

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CHICAGO (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama was staying in Chicago for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday Thursday and squeezing in some holiday shopping, a day after trying to reassure Americans about the ailing economy as stores braced for a rough season.

“Help is on the way,” he proclaimed Wednesday at his third news briefing on the economy this week. Fifty-five days away from taking office, he declared he would have an economic plan ready for action “starting day one.”

To help with ideas from outside the White House, Obama also announced he was forming a new team of advisers with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as the head.

“There is no doubt that during tough economic times family budgets are going to be pinched,” Obama said. “I think it is important for the American people, though, to have confidence that we’ve gone through recessions before, we’ve gone through difficult times before, that my administration intends to get this economy back on track.”

Read it all…

While McCain wants to make war – and get bogged down attempting to extract oil out of some remote/hostile corner of the earth – the future is in technology.

It would be a bad dream if we looked out at our future 50 -100 years from now and see ourselves still using oil in the same way – we have already got working models of new propulsion systems that could be used to drive a car – such as the magnetic rotary motor / and electric battery drive vehicles. And once we start to look into the problem of energy creation – it is no telling what we will come up with.

On the campaign trail Obama often says ‘Those who out teach us, will out compete us.’ I don’t think McCain really grasps that – he has surrounded himself with lobbyist – but what he don’t understand is that we can’t afford to play those same old games.

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