Mullen Warns Against Obama's Iraq Troop Plan
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
The nation's senior military official warned against a plan, put forward by presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by early 2010.
"I think the consequences could be very dangerous," Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm convinced at this point in time that ... making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important."
Obama has argued that a drawdown in Iraq is necessary to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The Illinois Democrat was in Afghanistan on Sunday and reiterated his call to add up to 15,000 U.S. troops there.
"This is where [terrorists] can plan attacks. They have sanctuary here. They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the [opium] drug trade in the region," Obama said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Mullen said conditions in Iraq have improved and "we're making progress." If that trend continues, he said, "I would look to be able to make recommendations to President Bush in the fall to continue those reductions."
Asked if more troops might depart before Bush leaves office in January, Mullen said, "Certainly there are assumptions which you could make which would make that possible."
Obama's visit to Afghanistan was part of a tour that will also bring him to Iraq and Europe. The candidate said the United States has failed to do what was necessary in Afghanistan over the years because it has been focused on a different war.
"We got distracted by Iraq," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt that we were distracted from our efforts not only to hunt down al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but also to rebuild this country."
Obama acknowledged there is a perception in the United States that he lacks experience in world affairs. But he said it is an unfounded perception - and that neither experts nor troops agree with it.
"The interesting thing is that the people who are very experienced in foreign affairs, I don't think, have those doubts," Obama said. "The troops that I've been meeting with over the last several days, they don't seem to have those doubts."
Obama said that a growing number of people agree it is time to withdraw troops from Iraq. Last week, President Bush and the Iraqi leadership announced a "time horizon" for troops to leave Iraq. Mullen said it is not possible to put an exact date on that plan, though.
"I'm not yet able to put an exact time line on it per se," Mullen said. "I think the strategic goals of having time horizons are ones that we all seek because eventually we would like to see U.S. forces draw down and eventually all come home."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said progress in Iraq is allowing for the new attitude toward withdrawing troops.
"The day is coming when American forces will step back more and more from combat roles. The day is coming when will be doing more in the way of training and less in the way of fighting. Those goals are being achieved now," she said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Two campaign surrogates - Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) for McCain and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) for Obama - sparred on "Fox News Sunday" over which candidate's Iraq plan is best.
"Senator McCain and I and others -- want us out of Iraq sooner rather than later," Lieberman said, "but we want us out in a way that does not compromise all the gains that American and Iraqi forces have made in Iraq. ...[W]e want to stay there to a victory because we don't want all those who have served in the American uniform there to have served, or in some cases died, in vain."
Bayh said that Obama called the Iraq war the wrong step from the beginning.
"I think it's important to note that Barack Obama's judgment about these issues has been excellent from the beginning, the kind of judgment you'd want in a commander in chief, and others are now beginning to adopt his positions," he said. "We wouldn't be discussing surges in Iraq or anything else if Barack had had his way. We wouldn't have started that war to begin with."
The talk turned to politics.
Bayh plainly stated that he would accept the vice presidential slot if offered to him. "That's not the sort of thing you say no to," he said. He would not respond to questions about whether he is being vetted as a potential candidate.
Lieberman, who was Al Gore's vice presidential nominee in 2000, said the idea that he would be the same for McCain is "not going to happen."
Lieberman, a lifelong Democrat before breaking from the party in 2006, said he did not know yet whether he would speak at the Republican National Convention in September.
He said he would "if John asks me and he thinks I can help him," but that he would not attack Obama.
For her part, Rice suggested she had no interest in serving on a McCain ticket. "I've done my part," she said. And she added that she wouldn't say for whom she's going to vote - though she said she has made up her mind.
Gore Discusses a Different Time Bomb
Former vice president Al Gore warned that time is ticking down on the opportunity to take steps to avert a climate disaster.
"We may have less than 10 years in order to make dramatic changes, lest we lose the chance to avoid catastrophic results from the climate crisis," said Gore, the 2007 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on environmental matters.
"This climate crisis is threatening our country, threatening all of human civilization," he added on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Last week, Gore proposed a 10-year plan to move the nation's entire energy supply to renewable sources, reinventing the electricity grid, moving fully to electric cars and spending billions of dollars on solar, wind and other renewable technologies.
Even those who back aggressive steps to combat climate change viewed the proposal with some skepticism. They said the proposal was impractical and far too costly. Gore disagreed.
"We need to reset the bar and change the debate," Gore said. "Our current course is completely unsustainable."
Gore acknowledged that the cost of a transition to renewable energy sources would be extremely costly - in the trillions of dollars - and felt acutely by the average consumer. But he said ordinary Americans are already feeling the brunt of the energy crisis.
"The devastating effect on Main Street and the rest of the country is coming from the present cost of electricity," he said. "The price increases are likely to continue until we stop just taking baby steps."
Gore has sharply criticized President Bush for his climate policy but declined to criticize the Democratic-led Congress.
"The focus now is past President Bush toward what's going to happen in January," he said. "I'm trying to enlarge the political space."
Gore reluctantly waded into political waters. Host Tom Brokaw prodded the former vice president for his view on Sen. Hillary Clinton's proposal, made during the Democratic primary, to halt collecting the federal gasoline tax to help offset rising gas prices.
"I disagreed with those who wanted a so-called gas tax holiday," Gore reluctantly said. "The people of this country are ready for bolder, more dramatic actions."
Obama and others have suggested that Gore might play the role of an energy czar in a Democratic White House. Gore acknowledged the White House is the ultimate bully pulpit but said he is more comfortable with his current role.
"I'm under no illusion that there's any position with as much influence as that of president. And, in fact, I tried to get that position, but that didn't happen," Gore said. "But I personally feel that my own best role is to try to bring about a sea change in public opinion."
Brokaw asked if Gore would give a Shermanesque statement about his intention for public office.
"General Sherman famously said, 'If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve,' " Gore said. "I didn't run for the nomination, and I've already been elected and did not serve." He added, in a sly reference to the 2000 campaign, "Joking about that."
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