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Obama Shifts the Foreign Policy Debate

Sen. Barack Obama says there have been security gains in Iraq, but the country needs a political solution. Obama is continuing his overseas trip with stops in Jordan and Israel.Video by AP

Obama referred to a withdrawal timeline as something now largely agreed upon by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments, saying he welcomes "the growing consensus."

He was effusive in his praise of U.S. troops and diplomats, describing the "terrific" conversation he had with Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, who took him on a helicopter tour over the Iraqi capital. Obama said he understands that Petraeus would prefer leaving his options open rather than operating with a timeline, and said if he were in Petraeus's shoes, "I'd probably feel the same way."

But in an indirect dig at President Bush, who has repeatedly said he would base any withdrawal decisions on the advice of military commanders, Obama said his job would be to listen to the military but make decisions based on "a range of factors that I have to take into account as a commander in chief."

Those factors, he said, would include "the perceptions of the Iraqi people" and the statements of their leaders, as well as "the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan," which he called the "central front in the war against terrorism."

McCain's judgments are based on "what he thinks makes the most sense," Obama said. But his own judgments, "in speaking with Afghans and Iraqis, the U.S. military and civilians," he said, led him to conclude that there is a need to "seize this moment to make America more secure" by focusing on "broader challenges."

Chief among them, he said, are the "need to refocus attention on Afghanistan and to go after the Taliban, including putting more troops on the ground, and to put more pressure on Pakistan to deal with the safe havens of terrorists."

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an interview last night with PBS's "NewsHour," said he shares Obama's assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is "precarious and urgent." The 10,000 additional troops needed there, he said, would not be available "in any significant manner" unless there are withdrawals from Iraq.

For now, he said, "my priorities . . . given to me by the commander in chief are: Focus on Iraq first. It's been that way for some time. Focus on Afghanistan second."

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