Obama says will back Petraeus for new military job

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who has called for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, said on Sunday he will vote to confirm the top commander there for a new job as head of the military’s Central Command.

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President George W. Bush has nominated Gen. David Petraeus, who led the buildup of troops in Iraq, to be in charge of operations across the Middle East and Central Asia.

If confirmed by the Senate, Petraeus will still be in that job when the next president replaces Bush at the White House in January 2009. Obama hopes that person is him.

“Yes,” Obama told “Fox News Sunday” when asked if, as a senator from Illinois, he would approve Petraeus. “I think Petraeus has done a good tactical job in Iraq.”

Obama has said he would start pulling out more troops as soon as he became president.

“My hope is that Petraeus would reflect that wider view of our strategic interest,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I will listen to General Petraeus given the experience that he has accumulated over the last several years,” Obama said. “It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say.”

“It would be my job as commander in chief to set the mission, to make the strategic decisions in light of the problems that we’re having in Afghanistan, in light of the problems that we are having in Pakistan, the fact that al Qaeda is strengthening,” Obama said.

Republicans immediately jumped on his comments, saying Obama was avoiding the tough questions.

“Obama also said it would be ‘stupid’ to ignore commanders on the ground in Iraq, yet his withdrawal strategy does exactly that,” Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said in an e-mail. “If Obama isn’t ready to answer tough questions, how can he be ready to be commander in chief?”

Obama also said he was a “big respecter” of Petraeus’ predecessor Adm. William Fallon, who resigned after a magazine article depicted him as openly criticizing Bush administration policy over Iran.

“It was unfortunate that the administration wasn’t listening more to the observations of Fallon, that we have to think about more than just Iraq, that we’ve got issues with Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan, and our singular focus on Iraq I think has distracted us,” Obama said.

(Writing by David Wiessler; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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