On Thursday, aides to Barack Obama continued what appears to be a concerted efforts to shift the foreign policy debate from Iraq to Afghanistan. Harping on comments made by Adm. Michael Mullen stating that more U.S. troops were needed in Afghanistan to combat a growing and increasingly violent insurgency, aides to the presumptive Democratic nominee lambasted John McCain for failing to have an international perspective of the war on terror.
"The outcome of this approach which John McCain fully supported and wants to continue is plain to seen," said Obama's senior foreign policy adviser Susan Rice. "al Qaeda has a new sanctuary just a few hundred miles from where it organized the 9/11 attacks."
The conference call reflected what has been an emerging pattern from the Obama campaign. In recent weeks, the Senator and his aides have increasingly shifted their focus from Iraq to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The move seems driven, in part, by spikes in violence in that country -- for the second straight month, the number of deaths for U.S. serviceman has been higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq -- but also a developing wisdom that security improvements in Iraq make a debate over troop withdrawals (or the efficacy of the surge) a difficult proposition. Indeed, Obama himself said on Thursday that he would be open to refining his policy on Iraq withdrawal timelines.
And yet, while aides to Obama spent the majority of the conference call highlighting a "global view of international security" that they said their boss shared with Mullen, they did not shy away from addressing McCain or the Iraq war.
"It is ironic for Sen. McCain to claim to be right about a decision made in the fourth quarter of a losing game that shouldn't have been fought in the first place," Rice said of the surge. "But the fact is they differ on the analysis. Barack Obama was clear that any time you put additional men and women from the finest fighting force [into Iraq] you are going to see security improvements... but right now, we are a finger in the dike... as it is now, the progress [Iraqis] have made politically has been limited and far short of necessary for the results of the surge to be claimed a success."
Arguments over what to do about Afghanistan vis-à-vis Iraq are likely to intensify over the summer as Obama is slated to visit the region. But the McCain campaign is working equally as hard to make the foreign policy debate largely Iraq-focused. And already the charges that Obama has "flip-flopped" on his designs for a troop withdrawal from the country are materializing within conservative circles.
As for the substance: Obama has called for a reasonable withdrawal of one-to-two brigades per month from Iraq, over the course of 16 months. He also has called for two additional brigades to be sent to Afghanistan to help with security measures there, and for the targeting of high-level al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan even if that country does not consent to the operation. McCain has stressed a greater role for NATO in Afghanistan, while stressing that withdrawal from Iraq should be determined not by timelines but by levels of violence. He has criticized Obama as naïve for his Pakistan policy.