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On the Issues: A world apart

The next president must deal with hot spots across the globe

POSTED: November 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Much of the foreign policy talk between the presidential candidates boils down to one primary issue: the war in Iraq.

The differences don't stop there, but a fundamental difference in how to proceed in Iraq is an issue that separates the Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress as well.

Republican John McCain believes it is strategically and morally essential for the U.S. to support the government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, has repeatedly expressed support for the counterinsurgency effort and his confidence in former Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus, calling him "the right man at the right time."

Chambliss, who has made several trips to Iraq, says this is a different kind of war.

"Our enemy is not an army, nor is our enemy brave enough to make themselves visible," Chambliss said. "These people are extremists who cowardly attack civilians. Innocent men, women and even children are simply fodder for this enemy's guns and bombs."

On the other hand, Democrat Barack Obama advocates a timed withdrawal from Iraq. Obama advocates a phased pullout, directed by military commanders and done in consultation with the Iraqi government.

Obama says military experts believe combat brigades can be redeployed from Iraq at a pace of one to two brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010, more than seven years after the war began.

Obama maintains that the Iraqi government has not stepped forward to lead the Iraqi people and to reach the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

Chambliss' Democratic opponent, Jim Martin, a Vietnam veteran, has been critical of what he calls "the failed policy of the Bush administration."

Martin, like Obama, advocates a timed withdrawal from Iraq. He has been critical of the price tag for the military effort, which he places at $10 billion per month.

McCain, who called for ousting the late dictator Saddam
Hussein for years before the 2003 invasion, says the 80 percent drop in violence there is "a direct result" of the 2007 surge of 30,000 extra U.S. troops and that "victory ... is finally in sight."

He opposes a timetable to end the occupation, which will cost an estimated $1 trillion-plus before it's over. McCain believes that stability and democracy can take root in Iraq only if U.S. troops stay until there is political reconciliation, economic revival and Iraqi forces can operate alone.

A premature pullout, McCain warns, could bring renewed strife. Iraq, he says, could become a "failed state" where al-Qaida terrorists would gain a safe haven, Iran would hold sway through Shiite Muslim militias and violence would threaten neighboring states.

Obama, who opposed the invasion and the surge, admits that the surge has worked "beyond our wildest dreams." But he says that Iraq's Shiite-led government and its sectarian rivals will put off real reconciliation unless pressured to take responsibility for their own fate by a pullout of most U.S. forces.

Obama also would leave a "residual" U.S. force in Iraq to conduct "targeted counterterrorism missions" and protect U.S. diplomats and civilian personnel.

Most experts agree that the surge greatly reduced violence. But they point out that other factors helped, too: Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr declared a truce, minority Sunni Muslims had already been driven from large parts of Baghdad and former Sunni insurgents in Anbar province had joined U.S.-funded groups to fight al-Qaida-linked extremists.

Petraeus, who oversaw the surge, says that ground conditions, which he calls "fragile" and "reversible," should govern any U.S. withdrawal. But most Americans want the troops home, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants a U.S. pullout by 2011.

Obama says the diversion of U.S. troops to the "unnecessary" war in Iraq allowed the Taliban and al-Qaida to rebuild after their 2001 defeat and to establish sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal region, where al-Qaida is plotting new terrorist attacks.

He calls Afghanistan "the war we have to win" and says he would send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 72,000 U.S. and NATO forces there now. He also pledges to press NATO allies for more troops and would step up the training of Afghan forces and non-military aid programs.

Obama says he won't "tolerate a terrorist sanctuary" in nuclear-armed Pakistan, and implies that he would send U.S. troops across the border if Islamabad fails to act. He also backs a bill to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan.

McCain, who's said the United States could "muddle through" in Afghanistan, denies that the rising violence there is due to "our diversion to Iraq." He says he would launch an Iraq-type troop surge to beef up U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts. But he backtracked from a pledge to divert 14,000 troops from Iraq, now saying he would press NATO allies to provide some of the forces and equipment.

McCain also would appoint a White House "czar" to oversee Afghanistan strategy, including boosting nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also would recruit local tribes in Pakistan's tribal area to "fight foreign terrorists," the approach used against al-Qaida-linked terrorists in Iraq's Anbar province.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the Iraq war has restricted the fight in Afghanistan to an "economy-of-force operation." Army Gen. David McKeirnan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, wants another 20,000 troops, but most cannot be made available unless there is a manpower reduction in Iraq.

Military officials discount the idea of an Iraq-style surge. The Iraq surge was mostly to pacify Baghdad, whereas the Taliban insurgency is based in the countryside.

McCain, who once publicly sang "bomb, bomb, bomb - bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of a Beach Boys song, says that Iran is the "world's chief sponsor of terrorism" and is seeking nuclear weapons that would pose "a danger we cannot allow."

He rejects direct talks with Tehran and would seek tighter U.N. sanctions to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program. If that failed, he would lead "like-minded countries" in imposing their own sanctions, including strangling Iran's gasoline imports. He also would press for a private investment cutoff. McCain says he wants a peaceful solution, but he does not rule out using force.

Obama agrees that "there is no greater threat" to Israel and the region than Iran. But he says that he would hold direct negotiations without "self-defeating preconditions," such as requiring Iran to first suspend uranium enrichment, and would offer it incentives to halt the program and end support for terrorism. If Iran refused, he would push for tougher U.N. sanctions and work with allies on unilateral measures, including a gasoline sales ban.

Obama also refuses to rule out force, but he says first exhausting all diplomatic options would ensure that such action would enjoy greater international support.

When it comes to dealing with a Russia that is increasingly aggressive abroad and repressive at home, McCain and Obama share some similar stands on specific issues but would pursue different approaches to the overall relationship.

McCain has taken a more combative stance. In an essay last year, he called for Russia's expulsion from the G-8 group of industrialized countries, which is unlikely to happen because the other G-8 partners don't want to do it.

After the Aug. 8 Russian invasion of the nation of Georgia, he urged quick action on admitting Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. He said he told Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in a telephone call, "Today, we are all Georgians."

Obama has been equally vocal in criticizing Russia's actions in Georgia and called for international peacekeepers to replace Russian troops in contested regions. But he's been more cautious on NATO membership for Georgia - favoring it in principle, but not calling to accelerate it in a time of tension.

McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.



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