On vacation so postings will be limited

Until Sunday

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Obama considering trip to Iraq before elections

While he isn’t interested in strolling with McCain, Obama does have an interest in going to Iraq:

Barack Obama’s campaign said Wednesday that the Illinois senator is considering a trip to Iraq before the November election, CNN’s Candy Crowley reports.Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain had strongly criticized Obama earlier in the day for not visiting Iraq in more than two years, and for turning down the Arizona senator’s suggestion that the two should make a joint trip to the country.

“Senator Obama has been to Iraq once — a little over 2 years ago he went and he has never seized the opportunity except in a hearing to meet with Gen Petraeus,” McCain said at a campaign event in Reno, Nevada. “My friends this is about leadership and learning.”

Again raising the issue of Obama’s willingness to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, McCain also said of the Illinois senator, “he wants to sit down with the president of Iran but hasn’t yet sat down with Gen. Petraeus, the leader of our troops in Iraq?”

Responding to McCain, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, “It seems odd that Senator McCain, who bought the flawed rationale for war so readily, would be lecturing others on their depth of understanding about Iraq.”

Obama last visited Iraq in January, 2006 for a two-day tour of the country.

McCain’s comments come the same day the Republican National Committee launched a clock on its Web site noting how many days it has been since Obama traveled to Iraq, and three days after his supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested both the presumptive Republican nominee and Obama tour the country together. McCain later said he agreed that the Democratic presidential contender should accompany him on an upcoming trip, adding that he would “seize that opportunity to educate Senator Obama along the way.”

Burton declined the invitation and called the move a “political stunt.”

“The American people don’t want any more false promises of progress, they deserve a real debate about a war that has overstretched our military, and cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars without making us safer,” he added.

Speaking Wednesday, McCain called those comments a “profound misunderstanding” of the situation in Iraq.

“That is a profound misunderstanding, a profound misunderstanding of what’s happened in Iraq and what’s at stake in Iraq,” he said. “Because if we set a date of withdrawal as Senator Obama wants to do, there will be chaos, there will be genocide, there will be increased Iranian influence there, and we will have to go back with further sacrifice of American blood and treasure.”

Bush to Attack Iran by August

So says the Asia Times:

Bush ‘plans Iran air strike by August’

By Muhammad Cohen

NEW YORK – The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently.

Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear.

The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that that the US plans an

air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC’s elite Quds force. With an estimated strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Quds’ stated mission is to spread Iran’s revolution of 1979 throughout the region.

Targets could include IRGC garrisons in southern and southwestern Iran, near the border with Iraq. US officials have repeatedly claimed Iran is aiding Iraqi insurgents. In January 2007, US forces raided the Iranian consulate general in Erbil, Iraq, arresting five staff members, including two Iranian diplomats it held until November. Last September, the US Senate approved a resolution by a vote of 76-22 urging President George W Bush to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization. Following this non-binding “sense of the senate” resolution, the White House declared sanctions against the Quds Force as a terrorist group in October. The Bush administration has also accused Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program, though most intelligence analysts say the program has been abandoned.

An attack on Iraq would fit the Bush administration’s declared policy on Iraq. Administration officials questioned directly about military action against Iran routinely assert that “all options remain on the table”.

Rockin’ and a-reelin’
Senators and the Bush administration denied the resolution and terrorist declaration were preludes to an attack on Iran. However, attacking Iran rarely seems far from some American leaders’ minds. Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain recast the classic Beach Boys tune Barbara Ann as “Bomb Iran”. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promised “total obliteration” for Iran if it attacked Israel.

The US and Iran have a long and troubled history, even without the proposed air strike. US and British intelligence were behind attempts to unseat prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who nationalized Britain’s Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company, and returned Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in 1953. President Jimmy Carter’s pressure on the Shah to improve his dismal human-rights record and loosen political control helped the 1979 Islamic revolution unseat the Shah.

But the new government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned the US as “the Great Satan” for its decades of support for the Shah and its reluctant admission into the US of the fallen monarch for cancer treatment. Students occupied the US Embassy in Teheran, holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Eight American commandos died in a failed rescue mission in 1980. The US broke diplomatic relations with Iran during the hostage holding and has yet to restore them. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric often sounds lifted from the Khomeini era.

The source said the White House views the proposed air strike as a limited action to punish Iran for its involvement in Iraq. The source, an ambassador during the administration of president H W Bush, did not provide details on the types of weapons to be used in the attack, nor on the precise stage of planning at this time. It is not known whether the White House has already consulted with allies about the air strike, or if it plans to do so.

Sense in the senate
Details provided by the administration raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill, the source said. After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike, Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece “within days”, the source said last week, to express their opposition. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate offices were closed for the US Memorial Day holiday, so Feinstein and Lugar were not available for comment.

Given their obligations to uphold the secrecy of classified information, it is unlikely the senators would reveal the Bush administration’s plan or their knowledge of it. However, going public on the issue, even without specifics, would likely create a public groundswell of criticism that could induce the Bush administration reconsider its plan.

The proposed air strike on Iran would have huge implications for geopolitics and for the ongoing US presidential campaign. The biggest question, of course, is how would Iran respond?

Iran’s options
Iran could flex its muscles in any number of ways. It could step up support for insurgents in Iraq and for its allies throughout the Middle East. Iran aids both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Israel’s Occupied Territories. It is also widely suspected of assisting Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.

Iran could also choose direct confrontation with the US in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a long, porous border. Iran has a fighting force of more than 500,000. Iran is also believed to have missiles capable of reaching US allies in the Gulf region.

Iran could also declare a complete or selective oil embargo on US allies. Iran is the second-largest oil exporter in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and fourth-largest overall. About 70% of its oil exports go to Asia. The US has barred oil imports from Iran since 1995 and restricts US companies from investing there.

China is Iran’s biggest customer for oil, and Iran buys weapons from China. Trade between the two countries hit US$20 billion last year and continues to expand. China’s reaction to an attack on Iran is also a troubling unknown for the US.

Three for the money
The Islamic world could also react strongly against a US attack against a third predominantly Muslim nation. Pakistan, which also shares a border with Iran, could face additional pressure from Islamic parties to end its cooperation with the US to fight al-Qaeda and hunt for Osama bin Laden. Turkey, another key ally, could be pushed further off its secular base. American companies, diplomatic installations and other US interests could face retaliation from governments or mobs in Muslim-majority states from Indonesia to Morocco.

A US air strike on Iran would have seismic impact on the presidential race at home, but it’s difficult to determine where the pieces would fall.

At first glance, a military attack against Iran would seem to favor McCain. The Arizona senator says the US is locked in battle across the globe with radical Islamic extremists, and he believes Iran is one of biggest instigators and supporters of the extremist tide. A strike on Iran could rally American voters to back the war effort and vote for McCain.

On the other hand, an air strike on Iran could heighten public disenchantment with Bush administration policy in the Middle East, leading to support for the Democratic candidate, whoever it is.

But an air strike will provoke reactions far beyond US voting booths. That would explain why two veteran senators, one Republican and one Democrat, were reportedly so horrified at the prospect.

Bush takes correct route with North Korea, McCain disagrees

McCain Breaks with Bush Over North Korea

By Glenn Kessler
Sen. John McCain broke today with President Bush’s new policy on North Korea, co-authoring an opinion article with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in which he called for a return to Bush’s original demand of a complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear programs.

With the prodding of secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush — who once labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” — has greatly softened his position on North Korea in the past year in an effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. But the shifts have greatly angered conservatives in the Republican Party. McCain’s new stance, which is outlined in an opinion article in Tuesday’s editions of the Asian Wall Street Journal, calls for a return to sanctions and other levers to prod North Korea.

The administration has argued that the diplomatic engagement — led by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill — has convinced North Korea to begin dismantling its facilities and turn over 18,000 documents on its reactor at Yongbyon. But conservatives say those achievements have come only after large concessions by Bush, including returning millions of dollars tainted by illicit activities, and that a tougher approach is still needed.

The Bush administration has also relented in its demand for a full accounting of North Korea’s assistance to a reactor in Syria and its suspected experimentation of uranium enrichment, keeping the focus on seeking the return of weapons-grade plutonium.

“We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks.” McCain and Lieberman write. The Bush administration essentially abandoned enforcement of the U.N. Resolution when early in 2007 it decided to negotiate an end to the impasse.

The article also suggests that the Bush administration has abandoned the traditional alliance with Japan in pursuit of a deal. “We must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a cover nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags,” the two senators said.

The language concerning North Korea in the article — which overall sketches out a vision for engagement with Asia — is remarkably similar to President Bush’s first-term rhetoric, which the White House has largely dropped in recent months.

Obama tweaks McCain on Bush fundraiser

Obama has some fun with McCain

Obama thanks McCain

The Obama campaign is hitting back at McCain’s speech today attacking Republicans and Democrats for failing on nuke proliferation.

Camp Obama’s response is kind of fun: They’re basically thanking McCain for, in effect, highlighting Obama’s record on nukes by speaking out on the issue. From Obama spokesperson Bill Burton’s statement…
“By embracing many aspects of Barack Obama’s non-proliferation agenda today, John McCain highlighted Obama’s leadership on nuclear weapons throughout this campaign, and his bipartisan work with Richard Lugar in the Senate. No speech by John McCain can change the fact that he has not led on non-proliferation issues when he had the chance in the Senate, and that his support for a war against Iraq — which had no active nuclear program — diverted us from our efforts to secure loose nuclear materials, hampered our ability to pressure countries like North Korea and Iran, and sets back our ability to lead the world against the threat of nuclear weapons.”

The Obama camp has compiled a bunch of past quotes from him on the topic that it claims show McCain’s more a follower than a leader here. View them after the jump.

The McCain camp responds:
The Obama campaign insists that their candidate has ‘led the fight in the U.S. Senate for arms control.’ But the record should be clear: Sen. Obama, after he entered the Senate in 2005, joined Sen. Lugar and the many other members who have supported the Nunn-Lugar program and other nonproliferation programs for years. His campaign points as evidence of his leadership to a bill so non-controversial that it passed the Senate by unanimous consent. There was no ‘fight’ for Sen. Obama to lead.
NUCLEAR-FREE WORLD

McCain: “A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” That is my dream, too. It is a distant and difficult goal. And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us. But the Cold War ended almost twenty years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals.”

Obama on 10/2/07: “But we need to do much more. We need to change our nuclear policy and our posture, which is still focused on deterring the Soviet Union – a country that doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan and North Korea have joined the club of nuclear-armed nations, and Iran is knocking on the door. More nuclear weapons and more nuclear-armed nations mean more danger to us all. Here’s what I’ll say as President: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

Non-Proliferation Treaty

McCain: “In 2010, an international conference will meet to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If I am President, I will seize that opportunity to strengthen and enhance all aspects of the non-proliferation regime.”

Obama on 10/2/07: “As we do this, we’ll be in a better position to lead the world in enforcing the rules of the road if we firmly abide by those rules. It’s time to stop giving countries like Iran and North Korea an excuse. It’s time for America to lead. When I’m President, we’ll strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that nations that don’t comply will automatically face strong international sanctions.”

REDUCING ARSENALS

McCain: “While working closely with allies who rely on our nuclear umbrella for their security, I would ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to engage in a comprehensive review of all aspects of our nuclear strategy and policy. I would keep an open mind on all responsible proposals. At the same time, we must continue to deploy a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent, robust missile defenses and superior conventional forces that are capable of defending the United States and our allies. But I will seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments.”

Obama on 10/2/07: “We will not pursue unilateral disarmament. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll retain a strong nuclear deterrent. But we’ll keep our commitment under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty on the long road towards eliminating nuclear weapons. We’ll work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material. We’ll start by seeking a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. And we’ll set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.”

NUCLEAR FUEL SUPPLY

McCain: “To persuade countries to forego enrichment and reprocessing, I would support international guarantees of nuclear fuel supply to countries that renounce enrichment and reprocessing, as well as the establishment of multinational nuclear enrichment centers in which they can participate. Nations that seek nuclear fuel for legitimate civilian purposes will be able to acquire what they need under international supervision. This is one suggestion Russia and others have made to Iran. Unfortunately, the Iranian government has so far rejected this idea. Perhaps with enough outside pressure and encouragement, they can be persuaded to change their minds before it is too late.”

Obama on 4/23/07: “Countries should not be able to build a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That’s why we should create an international fuel bank to back up commercial fuel supplies so there’s an assured supply and no more excuses for nations like Iran to build their own enrichment plants. It’s encouraging that the Nuclear Threat Initiative, backed by Warren Buffett, has already offered funding for this fuel bank, if matched two to one. But on an issue of this importance, the United States should not leave the solution to private philanthropies. It should be a central component of our national security, and that’s why we should provide $50 million to get this fuel bank started and urge other nations, starting with Russia, to join us.

LOOSE NUKES

McCain: “And we need to increase funding for our own non-proliferation efforts, including the Cooperative Threat Reduction programs established by the landmark Nunn-Lugar legislation, and ensure the highest possible standards of security for existing nuclear materials.”

Obama on 8/01/07: “That is why I worked in the Senate with Dick Lugar to pass a law that would help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction. That is why I am introducing a bill with Chuck Hagel that seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons. And that is why, as President, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years. While we work to secure existing stockpiles, we should also negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material.”

Obama mistakes Buchenwald and Auschwitz

The right-wing blogs have been abuzz over Obama’s comments yesterday, at a town hall in New Mexico, that his uncle had helped liberate concentration camps, and was among the “first American troops” at Auschwitz. The blogs and the Republican National Committee have hit Obama hard, criticizing him for not knowing his history — that the Soviets, not the Americans, liberated Auschwitz.

The Obama camp admits the mistake, saying Obama meant Buchenwald, not Auschwitz. “Senator Obama’s family is proud of the service of his grandfather and uncles in World War II — especially the fact that his great uncle was a part of liberating one of the concentration camps at Buchenwald,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said. “Yesterday he mistakenly referred to Auschwitz instead of Buchenwald in telling of his personal experience of a soldier in his family who served heroically.”

Here is what Obama said, while talking about post-traumatic stress disorder afflicting veterans, per NBC/NJ’s Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Lauren Appelbaum: “I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps, and the story in our family was is that when he came home, he just went up into the attic and he didn’t leave the house for six months, right. Now obviously something had really affected him deeply but at that time there just weren’t the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain. That’s why you know the, this idea of making sure that every single veteran when they are discharged are screened for post traumatic stress disorder and given the mental health services that they need, that’s why its so important.”

And here’s video.

The RNC wrote this in response: “Barack Obama’s dubious claim is inconsistent with world history and demands an explanation. It was Soviet troops that liberated Auschwitz, so unless his uncle was serving in the Red Army, there’s no way Obama’s statement yesterday can be true. Obama’s frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief.”

The RNC also provides a link to the Holocaust Museum to show the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

But in its statement today, the Obama campaign said the candidate’s great uncle, who the campaign says was his grandmother’s brother, was a member of the 89th Infantry Division, which liberated Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. The campaign also provides a link to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, but this a description of the 89th Infantry’s part. It also provided a separate link to the 89th’s role here.