Court Of Impeachment And War Crimes: We're Off and Running and here comes The General!

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Monday, April 7, 2008

We're Off and Running and here comes The General!

WASHINGTON - Disregarding a serious flare-up of violence, Republican presidential candidate John McCain says the United States is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat" in Iraq, opening a campaign week that will draw him and his Democratic opponents back to Washington to question commanding Gen. David Petraeus about the conduct of the unpopular war.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, shoved out her pollster and senior strategist after it was disclosed he met with representatives of the Colombian government to help promote a free trade agreement Clinton opposes. It was the second major shake-up in the New York senator's campaign apparatus in less than 60 days.

McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, has tied his candidacy to the war, now in its sixth year. He has praised last year's U.S. troop increase — now being reversed.

In a speech he planned to deliver at the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the National World War I Museum, McCain's text highlighted a sharp drop in violence in recent months. From June 2007 until last month, when McCain visited Iraq, violence fell by 90 percent, and deaths of civilians and coalition forces fell by 70 percent, McCain said in the prepared remarks.

"We are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success," McCain said.

"The dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi," McCain said.

Despite the positive numbers, last year — when the additional 30,000 troops flowed into the country — was the deadliest yet.

Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama both promise to pull American forces out of the oil-rich country, where more than 4,000 U.S. troops have died and taxpayers have spent $500 billion (euro318.03 billion).

Clinton, who trails Obama in the Democratic contest for delegates, was working to move beyond the second major internal shake-up in 60 days.

Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist and pollster, stood down after the Wall Street Journal last week reported about his involvement with Colombian government efforts to win Senate approval of a free trade agreement. Penn, who is chief executive of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, issued an apology after the disclosure saying it was an "error in judgment."

That apparently did not suffice to keep him in Clinton's top strategy job. Penn's political consulting firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, has been paid $10.8 million (euro6.9 million) so far by Clinton's campaign.

"After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton Campaign," campaign manager Maggie Williams said in a statement released Sunday. "Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign."

Penn's firm Burson-Marsteller also lost its job with Colombia. Government officials announced the firing of the firm Saturday saying Penn's apology for meeting with their representatives conveyed "a lack of respect for the country."

According to Justice Department filings, Colombia agreed last year to pay Burson-Marsteller $300,000 (euro190,815) to help "educate members of the U.S. Congress and other audiences" about the trade deal and secure continued U.S. funding for the $5 billion (euro3.2 billion) anti-narcotics program Plan Colombia.

Communications director Howard Wolfson and pollster Geoff Garin will craft strategy for the campaign going forward, Williams said.

"Senator Clinton was disappointed that meetings with Colombians had occurred. She is a strong opponent of the trade deal," said a Clinton campaign officials speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not given authority to speak publicly. "Over the course of the weekend he recognized he needed to step aside as chief strategist."

Williams has only been at the helm of the Clinton campaign since Feb. 10 when she was named to replace Patti Solis Doyle.

Penn stepped aside at the start of a key week that was likely to see the U.S. presidential campaign veer sharply back to the Iraq war with the Congressional testimony of commanding Gen. David Petraeus.

While the Iraq war has been pushed into the campaign background by the slumping American economy, Petraeus's much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday will place him in the Senate chambers of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

Petraeus, who also will report face-to-face to U.S. President George W. Bush, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where McCain and Clinton, a New York senator, hold seats. Petraeus will face Obama during his appearance at the upper house's Foreign Affairs panel.

Rather than focus on the conflict, Clinton and Obama have been hammering away on the stumbling American economy as they battle for votes in economically hard-hit Pennsylvania, which votes later this month.

A Gallup poll showed Obama with a slight lead nationally over Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, at 49 percent to 46 percent. The survey conducted April 3-5 had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Obama leads in the delegate count, 1,635-1,501, according to The Associated Press. Because of the way Democrats apportion delegates, Clinton is not likely to catch Obama even if she has a strong showing in the remaining 10 contests.

That leaves the Democratic party race largely in the hands of the 800 so-called superdelegates — party leaders, lawmakers and officials who are not bound by state results when casting their vote.

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