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(CNN) — President-elect Barack Obama formally announced Sunday that retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki is his pick to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.
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Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki Sunday promised to work for veterans “each and every day.”

“There is no one more distinguished, more determined, or more qualified to build this VA than the leader I am announcing as our next secretary of Veterans Affairs — General Eric Shinseki,” Obama said at a press conference. “No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans. No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure they have the support they need.”

Obama said the nation must focus on helping troops who have served their country especially during bad economic times.

“We don’t just need to better serve veterans of today’s wars. We also need to build a 21st century VA that will better serve all who have answered our nation’s call,” Obama said. “That means cutting red tape and easing transition into civilian life. And it means eliminating shortfalls, fully funding VA health care, and providing the benefits our veterans have earned.

Shinseki, who spoke after Obama, made a vow to his fellow veterans. If confirmed, he said, he will “work each and every day” to ensure the nation is serving them “as well as you have served us.”

The official announcement took place in Chicago on Sunday, the anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart,” Obama said earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“And I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who’s going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home.”

“He has agreed that he is willing to be part of this administration because both he and I share a reverence for those who serve,” Obama said in the interview recorded Saturday and broadcast Sunday.

Host Tom Brokaw said Shinseki had lost his job in the Bush administration “because he said that we would need more troops in Iraq than the secretary of defense, Don Rumsfeld, thought that we would need at that time.”

“He was right,” Obama replied.

Veterans groups appeared to support the selection.

“I am excited. I don’t know him personally but this is a huge move,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

For years, Shinseki, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, has been cited as an example by Pentagon critics who say the former Army chief’s sage advice was ignored in 2003, resulting in too few U.S. troops being sent to Iraq after the invasion.

Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2003 that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers would be required” to pacify the country. The comment infuriated some Bush administration officials, and he retired just a few months later.

Shinseki has never spoken publicly about his testimony, which has often been cited by critics as evidence that Rumsfeld ignored the advice of one of his key generals.

But as Army chief of staff, Shinseki was not in the chain of command, and played no direct role in drawing up the war plans.

Pentagon sources say that, in fact, Shinseki never advocated higher troop levels for Iraq, in part because it was not his job to do so. And sources say that just before the invasion, when asked by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers if he agreed with the war plans, Shinseki voiced no objections.

Still, Rieckhoff said, “Shinseki is a guy who had a career putting patriotism above politics. He is a wounded veteran so he understands the plight of veterans.”

He said Shinseki would have to make key connections with the veterans community, adding, “This is a big name and it shows that he (Obama) is not going to treat the Veterans Affairs secretary as a low priority.”

John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, called the reported pick an “interesting choice.”

“I am satisfied with it,” Rowan told CNN on Saturday, adding that the choice seems to be in the Obama transition team’s pattern of “bringing in strong personalities into all the positions who aren’t going to ‘yes’ him to death.”

“When Shinseki had his disagreements with the administration, he wasn’t afraid to speak up,” Rowan said.

Veterans for Common Sense also weighed in, issuing a statement “strongly” supporting Shinseki.

“In February 2003, General Shinseki honestly and correctly assessed our nation’s military needs before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003,” the statement said. “This same level of candor and honesty will serve President-elect Obama well so he can quickly and accurately identify VA’s many challenges and then implement responsible solutions that take into consideration our veterans’ needs and concerns.”

Source: CNN

A U.S. newspaper says President-elect Barack Obama is considering a more regional approach to the war in Afghanistan that could include talks with Iran.

The Washington Post Tuesday cites unnamed national security advisers to Mr. Obama, who also say he intends to deploy thousands more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden Message

The newspaper also reports Mr. Obama plans to intensify the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is widely blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Post quotes one of Mr. Obama’s advisers as saying bin Laden is America’s enemy and should be its principal target.

Mr. Obama has pledged to end the war in Iraq, and defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Post quotes a senior U.S. military official explaining mainly-Shi’ite Iran’s interest in cooperating as saying Iran does not want “Sunni extremists in charge of Afghanistan any more than” the U.S. does.

Source: VOA News

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.

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Source: Washington Independent

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