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Obama Camp Hits Back on Terrorism

Terrorism remained the campaign issue of the day, as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, wasted no time in responding to attacks from the McCain campaign this morning about statements Sen. Barack Obama made yesterday regarding his strategy for fighting terrorism. Kerry began by linking Sen. John McCain to what he called the "indefensible" policies of the Bush administration. From a conference call hosted by the Obama campaign:

"Afghanistan is more challenging today than it was yesterday, or a month ago, or a year ago, or certainly in the immediate aftermath of 2001. It is sliding into chaos. The Taliban is launching an offensive in the south. Al Qaeda, by our own intelligence community’s estimates, has enjoying a recruiting boon because of the misguided war in Iraq and because of the missteps we’ve made with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Our military is overstretched in Iraq, according to every single military expert who has testified before the Congress. We’ve spent nearly $1 trillion, lost 4,092 lives, fighting a war of choice that had nothing to do with the attacks that were launched against the United States. The United States is less safe, less respected, less able to lead in the world. That is the record that John McCain has chosen to embrace…

John McCain is Washington’s biggest supporter for the worst foreign-policy decision of our generation. He’s failed to learn the lessons of Sept. 11. We are paying for that failure today, and he is the candidate of the Iraq war mindset, a mindset that completely misunderstands and dangerously underestimates the threats of the 21st century."

Clarke accused the McCain campaign of using "Karl Rove" tactics and praised Obama’s counterterrorism strategy for being far more comprehensive than McCain’s.

The fact is, where you put the emphasis within that strategy does matter. What McCain is doing, at least in his statements, is putting the emphasis on military means. Clearly, military means are appropriate as part of a comprehensive strategy. But 99 percent of the time they’re not, and they are in fact counterproductive. By continuing the war in Iraq, a military measure, we’re actually being very counterproductive in the war on terror…

We have a comprehensive strategy, top to bottom: adding capability to foreign governments, police forces and militaries; strengthening the U.S. military; going after the ideological dimension; eliminating sanctuary. It’s a very comprehensive approach."

Clarke also addressed the criticism coming from the McCain campaign that Obama supports granting legal rights, like habeas corpus, to Guantanamo detainees. Clarke pointed to the successful prosecution of terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Terrorists have routinely, in the past, prior to this administration, been successfully captured around the world and prosecuted, including in the United States. With the exception of one participant in the World Trade Center attack of 1993, they were all found, all brought back to the United States, all given their rights, all convicted and then all locked up in super-max in Colorado. It can be done, and has been done in the past."

The McCain campaign was quick to reaffirm its message that Obama will only pursue a legal strategy against terrorists. Former GOP presidential candidate and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who made his leadership following the Sept. 11 attacks the centerpiece of his primary campaign, issued this statement on behalf of McCain:

"Throughout this campaign, I have been very concerned that the Democrats want to take a step back to the failed policies that treated terrorism solely as a law enforcement matter rather than a clear and present danger. Barack Obama appears to believe that terrorists should be treated like criminals — a belief that underscores his fundamental lack of judgment regarding our national security. In a post 9/11 world, we need to remain on offense against the terrorist threat which seeks to destroy our very way of life. We need a leader like John McCain who has the experience and judgment necessary to protect the American people."

It is worth noting that the McCain campaign, in releasing this statement, did not address the specific points raised by Kerry and Clarke on the other elements of Obama’s counterterrorism strategy.

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