Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obama’s Visit Renews Focus on Afghanistan

Senator Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, on a high-profile foreign trip in a country that is increasingly the focus of his clash with Senator John McCain over whether the war in Iraq has been a distraction in hunting down terrorists.Even as Mr. Obama met privately with American troops, military leaders and Afghan officials in the eastern part of the country, Mr. McCain was questioning his judgment on foreign policy. In a radio address on Saturday, he said Mr. Obama had been wrong about the increase in troops in Iraq, a strategy Mr. McCain said should be the basis for addressing deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan as well.

As the American presidential campaign unfolded across borders and time zones, Mr. Obama received support from an unexpected corner: Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, told a German magazine that he endorsed the Obama plan to withdraw most American troops in a gradual timeline of 16 months.While the Iraq war has been one of the dominant issues in the presidential campaign, Afghanistan has moved to the forefront of the foreign policy plans of both candidates. President Bush’s agreement to a “general time horizon” for withdrawing American troops in Iraq has opened the door to new consideration of strengthening the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan, which Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain agree on in principle.

For months, Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has criticized his rival for failing to visit Afghanistan and taking only one trip to Iraq. Even on Saturday, in a radio address, Mr. McCain renewed his criticism and sought to minimize Mr. Obama’s trip. “In a time of war,” Mr. McCain said, “the commander in chief’s job doesn’t get a learning curve.”

Mr. McCain, whose campaign spokeswoman suggested that Mr. Obama was embarking on a “campaign rally overseas,” said his rival was not going to Afghanistan and Iraq with an open mind. “Apparently,” Mr. McCain said in his radio address, “he’s confident enough that he won’t find any facts that might change his opinion or alter his strategy. Remarkable.”

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