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Harrisonburg: Former Clinton, Bush national-security adviser stumps for Obama

Story by Chris Graham

Richard Clarke never thought he’d be out on the stump for a presidential candidate. A counterterrorism expert who worked in the federal government for 30 years, his job was to make it so that nobody outside a small circle of people in the State Department ever knew his name.

But the Rappahannock County resident is finding himself talking up the presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama more and more these days.

“I hear a lot around the country that, Well, I think Barack Obama would be better on health care, or I think Barack Obama would be better on the economy, but I’m just not so sure about him on national security. Well, it’s because of his judgment on national security that I’m campaigning for him. And I think I’m a pretty good judge of people and their skills on national security,” said Clarke, a career bureaucrat who worked in seven administrations on national-security issues and worked with three presidential national-security teams, including the George W. Bush national-security team, at an event at Court Square Theater in Downtown Harrisonburg Sunday evening.

The town hall drew nearly 200 people to hear Clarke talk national-security issues vis-a-vis the Obama and John McCain presidential campaigns. Clarke said Obama has gotten it right on what he views as the four biggest national-security issues of recent years – the war in Iraq, getting out of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the need to take the war to Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan. “Those are four clear instances in the last 12-14 months where I think on the major national-security issues Sen. McCain has been wrong on every one of them, and Sen. Obama has been right on every one,” Clarke said.

“We even have George Bush on the record now saying Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But McCain was urging this war. He was part of the cabal with Ahmed Chalabi, the discredited exile leader from Iraq who helped distort the intelligence that led us into this war. McCain was on that side, part of that milieu, part of that group,” Clarke said. “Barack Obama stood up when it was very, very unpopular to be against the war. Trust me, I know. It was very unpopular. A lot of my friends thought I was crazy to stand up against the war. Barack Obama stood up against the war around the same time,.” Clarke said.

“He said this war was going to be counterproductive, and it would strengthen our enemies. Well, guess what, it was counterproductive, and it strengthened our enemies. It strengthened Iran, it strengthened Al-Qaeda, and it’s cost us 4,000 American troops, 25,000 American troops badly injured, and that’s not counting those with (post-traumatic stress disorder), and that’s not counting the over 100,000 Iraqi dead, and the trillion-dollar bill,” Clarke said.

On the issue of what to do in regard to Iraq now, Clarke pointed to Obama’s call last year to have the U.S. set a timetable for withdrawing our major combat forces that focused on pulling out a brigade a month while leaving behind forces to protect the United States embassy and to continue training and counterterrorism efforts in Iraq. McCain has consistently mocked the Obama strategy that is now being parroted by the Bush administration and advocated by the Iraqi government.

Obama has, for his part, consistently chided the administration for its lack of concerted effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan to achieve military and political and economic success in what should be the primary front in the war on terror. Again, as Clarke noted, the Bush administration has come around to the Obama position on those issues, while McCain muddles.

“Being in the Senate for 30 years doesn’t mean you have good judgment. Because if the length of time that somebody served or if the number of national-security jobs they held were the metric for good judgment, then Dick Cheney would be really good. And Donald Rumsfeld would be even better,” Clarke said.

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