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Thompson Files: Obama is tough

Australia confirms Iraq troop withdrawal
Australia's new government confirmed Thursday that it would withdraw its troops from Iraq by mid-year, as the US defence secretary headed to Canberra for landmark talks. The withdrawal was promised during the campaign for elections last November which saw US President George W. Bush's close ally John Howard ousted by centre-left Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Australia's 550-strong battlegroup in southern Iraq would be pulled out in close consultation with the United States and Britain to minimise disruption, said Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. "It doesn't occur on one day -- it's a big logistical operation to put troops in and it's a big logistical operation to get them out," Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "All the assessments are that the military situation in Iraq has substantially improved over the last 12 months or so," he said, noting that Rudd's Labor Party believed "we shouldn't have been there in the first place." Smith will meet US Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his visit for annual talks in Canberra this weekend -- the first time the Labor government will host the security conference. Gates will be accompanied at the talks by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. Both countries have been at pains to stress that the change of government in Australia and its withdrawal of troops from Iraq will not harm relations between them. Australia will still have about 1,000 military personnel in and around Iraq, including a 110-strong security detachment in Baghdad, and personnel for Hercules and Orion aircraft based outside Iraq and a warship in the Gulf.
by Loren B. Thompson
Arlington, Va. (UPI) Feb 20, 2008
Today's Democratic Party is so stridently opposed to the war in Iraq that it's hard to believe the same party presided over most of the big military buildups of the last century. Sometimes it seems more like the Democratic Party of Civil War years, which impeded Lincoln's efforts to win the war at every turn. But precisely because Democrats are so virulently anti-war, as they have been since the Vietnam conflict a generation ago, many voters have a wrongheaded view of where party front-runner Barack Obama stands on matters of war and peace. Like the main character in Ralph Ellison's 1953 novel "Invisible Man," Obama is a victim of stereotyping -- not because he's black, but because he's liberal.

So here's a quick quiz to see how much you know about the national-security views of the junior senator from Illinois. Which candidate told Palestinians before Hamas was elected that America would never recognize their government until it abandoned its campaign to destroy Israel? Which candidate upset environmentalists by backing coal gasification because he thought the nation needed greater energy independence? Which candidate voted to build a fence along the nation's southern border to prevent unlawful crossings? Which candidate favors the economic and political isolation of Iran if that country continues to pursue nuclear weapons? Sounds a lot like John McCain, but the answer is Barack Obama.

The one thing that Barack Obama has said about war and peace that everyone remembers -- because his campaign won't let us forget -- is his 2002 speech opposing the war in Iraq. While other Democrats were lining up behind President George W. Bush's ill-conceived invasion, Obama said: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses in the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida." Four thousand America lives -- and $600 billion -- later, it's obvious he was right.

Obama's admirers often leave out the next two sentences in the 2002 speech: "I am not opposed to all wars. I am opposed to dumb wars." However, that comment appears to reflect his actual views, since he went well beyond what other Democratic candidates said in insisting he would attack al-Qaida strongholds in Pakistan with or without the permission of the Pakistani government. In a July 2007 essay in Foreign Affairs, Obama called for reinforcing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, pressing NATO to send more forces, and pressuring the Pakistanis to prosecute the campaign against the Taliban more vigorously.

The national-security framework Obama set forth in the Foreign Affairs essay was strikingly similar to ideas that George W. Bush advanced as a presidential candidate in 1999 -- ideas about revitalizing the military for new challenges, retooling the intelligence community, halting the spread of nuclear weapons and combating global terrorism. Obama's approach to pursuing those objectives would undoubtedly look different from the Bush agenda. But once you get beyond Iraq and global warming, Obama and McCain don't seem all that different in the way they view the world.

After serving on the Senate Foreign Relations, Homeland Security and Veterans' Affairs committees for several years, Barack Obama has assimilated the key features of the emerging security environment. He wouldn't need the kind of education George W. Bush did in 2001 to be a competent commander in chief.

(Loren B. Thompson is chief executive officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank that supports democracy and the free market.)

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Feature: Al-Qaida feels pressure in Iraq
Sharqat, Iraq (UPI) Feb 19, 2008
U.S. and Iraqi forces are disrupting al-Qaida operation in the Tigris River Valley south of Mosul, where the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ha predicted a major battle against terrorists.

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