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Obama sticks to his guns on ‘Meet the Press’

If Barack Obama is worn-out following his nine-day trip overseas, he certainly has a funny way of showing it. The Democratic candidate for president appeared on “Meet the Press” Sunday, appearing calm and alert as he defended his positions on Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy.

Moderator Tom Brokaw began by re-tracing the steps of Obama's trip. Underscoring the busy itinerary, the presidential candidate joked, “It makes me tired just listening to you read it.”

Moving to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama called for a comprehensive military shift away from Iraq — in cooperation with military advisors — and towards Afghanistan, which he referred to as “the central front on terror, [where] the Taliban and al-Qaida have reconstituted themselves.”

Claiming that “we need a more serious effort on the part of the Afghan government and President Karzai,” Obama promised two additional brigades to buttress the efforts there.

“My job as the next commander-in-chief is going to be make a decision-- what is the right war to fight, and how do we fight it?” Obama said. “And I think that we should have been focused on Afghanistan from the start. We should have finished that job. We have not.”

Discussing Obama’s initial rejection of the concept of a troop “surge” in Iraq, Brokaw asked whether the United States would have the luxury of contemplating withdrawal at this point if the surge had not been implemented. While Obama refused to give full credit to the military maneuver for the recent reduction of violence, insisting that the Sunni political decision to back the American forces had been an equally important factor. 

With the topic of conversation remaining on the Middle East, Obama stressed the importance of finalizing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as a key to building international support for the renewed efforts in Afghanistan.

Such a diplomatic coup would not only restore U.S. credibility in the region, he said, but also would diffuse Iran’s influence there. Obama said that in a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, he had promised close supervision and immediate support from a potential Obama administration.

Moving to discuss the rock concert-like atmosphere of Obama’s speech in Berlin, Brokaw pointed out the objections raised by critics. Critics have argued that the candidate’s popularity and soaring rhetoric while abroad overshadowed vague policy talking points.

In reaction, Obama shot back explaining, “I could have delivered an exhaustive list of policy prescriptions, but I suspect that 200,000 people would have slowly drifted off.”  He continued, “[The point was] to get Europeans to recognize the extraordinary sacrifices that Americans have made on behalf of world freedom and security.  And to get Americans to recognize we need partners in order to be effective to solve our problems.”

On the subject of the economy, Obama said that the increasingly squeezed middle class was his priority, and that he would spend Monday with top economic advisors in an effort to hone a plan that would address citizens' concerns. “I think that ... what is driving people all across the country right now are worries and concerns about inability to pay the gas bill, inability to buy food because prices have gone up so high … we've got to fundamentally shift how we approach economic policy.” 

Promising a large influx of investment in the research and development of renewable energy, Obama said, “We have to have the same approach that John Kennedy said we're going to the moon in 10 years. We should be saying in 10 years' time, that we're going to cut our oil consumption drastically.”  However, he did not explain how he would pay for the proposed $150 billion dollar industry stimulus, nor by how much our consumption should be cut.

Finally, on the topic of potential running mates, Obama was mum, refusing to speculate on the timing of his announcement, geographic considerations, or whether his running mate would have a national security background.  He did, however, brush aside rumored reservations about having Hilary Clinton as a running mate, along with her husband waiting in the wings. “[Hilary Clinton] is one of the most effective, intelligent courageous leaders that we have in the Democratic Party.  Not only do I want Hillary Clinton campaigning with me, I want Bill Clinton – one of the smartest men in the history of politics — involved in our campaign.”