Obama Tackles Afghanistan And Mideast Conflict

Taking on two of his toughest foreign policy challenges, President Barack Obama pledged to find a new course in Afghanistan and to help Israel achieve a broad peace with the Arab world.

On his second full day in office, Obama on Thursday also sought to reverse one of the most contentious policies of the Bush administration by signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects while leaving undecided how to dispose of unresolved war crimes cases there.

The new commander in chief visited the State Department to underscore a major theme of his young administration: that diplomacy will play a more central role in American foreign policy — not just in seeking peace in the Middle East but also in defending the United States against global terrorist threats.

He struck a tone designed to contrast with that of his predecessor, saying a new approach is overdue.

"The inheritance of our young century demands a new era of American leadership," Obama said. "We must recognize that America's strength comes not just from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from our enduring values. And for the sake of our national security and the common aspirations of people around the globe, this era has to begin now."

He said there would be no lasting peace in Afghanistan unless "spheres of opportunity" are expanded for Afghans and their neighbors in Pakistan, where al-Qaida and other extremist groups have found haven.

"This is truly an international challenge of the highest order." Obama said.

Obama offered no new formula for success in the struggle against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, nor did he commit to a specific increase in U.S. troop strength there. He named former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as a special coordinator of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In an appearance with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department, Holbrooke said he would be working on the Afghan problem with a range of military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who is responsible for combat operations there, as well as Gen. David McKiernan, the on-the-ground commander in Afghanistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman.

"If our resources are mobilized and coordinated and pulled together, we can quadruple, quintuple, multiply by tenfold the effectiveness of our efforts there," Holbrooke said.

Inheriting a war with no end in sight amid rising Taliban resistance, Obama said his administration was undertaking a "careful review" of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan and would refocus attention on that region — a veiled reference to getting U.S. troops out of Iraq to enable a bigger commitment in Afghanistan.

He painted a grim picture of Afghanistan's situation and raised the specter of future al-Qaida attacks.

"The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services," he said. "Al-Qaida and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border. And while we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al-Qaida terrorists remain at large and remain plotting."

On the Middle East, Obama struck themes familiar from his predecessor's administration. He backed Israel's right to defend itself, decried rocket attacks on Israel by the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, lamented "substantial suffering" and loss among civilians in Gaza and favored an international effort to develop a durable and sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

"Lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire, and that's why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security," the president said, referring to Israel and a Palestinian state.

He said George J. Mitchell, the retired Senate majority leader, will be his special envoy to the Middle East to carry forward a U.S. commitment to solidify the cease-fire in Gaza "as well as the effort to help Israel reach a broader peace with the Arab world that recognizes its rightful place in the community of nations."

Obama stressed the importance of international humanitarian relief for Gaza.

"Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent Palestinians who depend on them," he said. "The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority." He notably mentioned no such role for Hamas.

Osama Hamdan, a Beirut-based spokesman for Hamas, dismissed Obama's remarks as nothing new.

"Obama is still on the same path as previous leaders and also will make the same mistakes as Bush that ignited the region instead of bringing stability," Hamdan told Al-Jazeera television.

On her first day at the State Department, Clinton made a round of calls to foreign leaders, including Jordan's King Abdullah II.

The Jordanian monarch pledged to work with the new administration to launch "serious and effective Mideast peace negotiations to reach the two-state solution as the only means to achieve security and stability in the region," according to a statement issued by the royal palace in Amman, Jordan.

Clinton's call to Abdullah followed a call from Obama on Wednesday, who also expressed his commitment to achieving peace between the Arabs and the Israelis, the statement said.

By ordering that the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay be closed by the end of the year, and by closing any remaining CIA secret prisons overseas and banning harsh interrogation practices, Obama said he was signaling that the U.S. would confront global violence without sacrificing "our values and our ideals."

"First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture," he said. "Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held there."

Congressional Democrats welcomed the moves.

"President Obama is ushering in a new era of smart, strong and principled national security policies, and Congress stands ready to work with him each step of the way," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, outgoing chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

But there was skeptical questioning from GOP leaders.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it "would be irresponsible to close this terrorist detainee facility" before important questions are resolved. Boehner said these include where will the detainees go when Guantanamo is closed and how will they be secured? The Bush administration was unable to persuade other countries to accept any of the several dozen detainees who have been cleared for repatriation but remain in limbo at Guantanamo. Others there are deemed too dangerous to be released but were not facing war crimes trials because of complications with the evidence against them.

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  • by Coach M Location: Rocky Mount on Jan 29, 2009 at 10:31 PM
    Didn't say that the Holy Bible did not stste this. I simply said that Jesus would not let people starve.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 29, 2009 at 08:01 PM
    Oh, Coach, I see what your problem is. You counted incorrectly. Point 1 refers to homosexuality as a sin-correct. Point 2 refers to welfare and food-incorrect (Jesus never said that). Point 3 refers to fornication and illegitimate children-correct. Point 4 refers to fighting Muslims "to keep them in check"-incorrect since nowhere in the Bible does it say Muslims. If credible supporting evidence was provided, I might would've considered giving at least partial credit. Point 5 refers to not wavering in the faith-correct. Point 6 refers to following a false messiah being a sin-if this was all that was written, then Tad would have gotten full credit. However, he went on to say that Jesus would point out Americans error in doing so; since there is no concrete or substantial abstract evidence to support this claim, I could only give him half-credit. Point 7 refers to the company one keeps, and this is correct, but only citing examples of Democrats takes away from the credibility-so 1/2credit
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 29, 2009 at 07:48 PM
    Coach, I purposefully did that because I always admired the teachers who required you to put more thought into your work. Hopefully, they encouraged your son to do so. Also coach, if you didn't notice, it says point 1 is correct. Point 1 speaks of homosexuality being an abomination. Correct means that response is true. I guess it's the cultural differences. Tad, this topic is definitely within my experience and expertise. Have a good night folks!
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 29, 2009 at 09:11 AM
    Refluter, if want to grade somebody on contempory socialist theory, I'd say you are qualified to do so. The subject matter discussed was beyond the scope of your expertise and experience. Coach, I don't want to get into another tit for tat with you since we have been getting along so well latety, but the Bible does say that those who don't work shall not eat. I feel the message here is that sometimes people need tough love. Sometimes if change (improvement) is not forced on someone by putting them in a position where they have to do for themselves, they will never improve. They will simply sit and let you do for them. Coach, you and the fluter have a nice day.
  • by Coach M Location: Rocky Mount on Jan 29, 2009 at 12:15 AM
    Refuter: The Holy Bible calls homosexually an abomination. Jesus would not tell them to get a job or they wouldn't eat. He would feed them. If you are considering point 4 as not having children before you are married, this is correct. Tad: You scored higher on Refuter's test than he gave you credit for. Sounds like one of my oldest sons teachers...LOL However, if you are an unwed mother you can not get married before you have children as you already have children...ROFLBO Have a gr8 day, you both
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:38 AM
    Tad, now I will evaluate your spiritual understanding. Point 1 is correct. Point 2 is incorrect since there is no supporting evidence. Point 3 is correct. Also, he would weep at the thought of someone getting a vasectomy. Point 4 is incorrect since there is no supporting evidence. Point 5 is correct. That also would mean he would chastise you. Point 6 could be correct depending on if the given stipulations are true. Point 7 is questionable since everyone has his/her shortcomings. You received a 57, which is an F. Tad, you are failing in your Biblical Understanding. I will give you the advise of the Essenes, "Continue studying to show yourself approved." I gave you 1 point for each correct answer, 0 points for incorrect answers, and a half a point for each questionable answer. You received a total of 4/7. Good luck studying!
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 26, 2009 at 06:40 AM
    Refluter, thought you would never ask. What would Jesus do? He would never marry another man nor would he condone homosexuality since he said it is sin. He would tell those on welfare that they had to work or they wouldn't eat. He would tell the unwed mothers to get married before they had children just as he did in the Bible and would weep when heard of an unborn child being aborted. He would ask why we foolishly doubt the moral correctness of fighting the muslums to keep them in check. He would site the numerous examples of this in the Bible. He would tell us not to let people who don't know him erode our moral standards by quoting the book of Matthew and otherwise teaching erroneously. He would also remind us that following a false "messiah" is sinful and point out the error that the American people are making by doing so. He would remind us that we are known by the company we keep and for good reason. He would site for example, Blagojevich, Wright, Rezko, and the obumas.
  • by Bob Location: Belhaven on Jan 25, 2009 at 06:12 PM
    How crazy the "one" is. Lets ask the terrorist to "please don't attack us". I'm sure if we beg,plead and ask real nice they will leave us alone. If the "one" has his way we want even be able to defend ourselves if attacked on U.S. soil-as he is going to outlaw most guns and ammo. The code of hammarabi (arabic origin) is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth in principle- so I guess we should take a sword and cut off their heads as they did some of our soldiers and U.S. citizens. Of course anyone who will "tell the truth" would torture that person to stop their family from being killed. I think the "one's" Muslim ideology (that he denied) is begining to surface. Taking a book from the libs play book, (Whine its Obama's fault, Whine its Obama's fault, Whine its obama's fault, Whine its obama's fault...ad nauseum). Only a few days in and it begins... the worst is yet to come...mark my words...he doesn't want to torture the terrorist but wants to kill babies thru abortion-idiot
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 23, 2009 at 09:47 PM
    So now I'm the "Messiah", huh. You think the Democrats refer to Obama as their messiah, but you refer to me as yours, huh. Brad, the question is not what I would do, it is "What would Jesus do?" I am not your messiah despite what you may think. Besides, Randy referred his question to Democratic Liberals. I am a Moderate Democrat. And Brad, you did not answer my question completely. I haven't forgotten. I've been checking to see if you responded back to my last comment. You are not to be slow in response to your Messiah's comments, or you might be punished.
  • by Brad Location: Winterville on Jan 23, 2009 at 05:31 PM
    Our president just signed a bill that outlaws torture. He should have been signing a bill stating 'we will do WHATEVER it takes to save and protect American lives'. Bleeding hearts are like a cancer infecting this nation.
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