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First thoughts: Obama's foreign focus

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's foreign focus: Although President Obama has spent so much time and energy on domestic issues in his first nine months in office, last week's news (Iran and its nuclear ambitions and missile tests, the future of Gitmo's closure, and Gen. McChrystal's troop request for Afghanistan) once again proved that foreign affairs could end up defining Obama's presidency more than health care or even the economy. And foreign affairs will continue to dominate this week's headlines. On Tuesday, Obama will meet in his Situation Room to discuss Afghanistan with Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal, Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Ikenberry, and Afghanistan adviser Holbrooke. On Thursday, the U.S. will have its big meeting with Iran in Geneva. That meeting comes after today's news that Iran test-fired long-range missiles capable of striking Israel and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

*** Lots of questions on Iran: Diplomatically, the White House feels very good about the moves it made regarding Iran. But this week will TRULY tell us how good the White House team really was. Will China step up, a la Russia, on sanctions? Will Iran continue to act as defiantly as they have, or will the domestic pressure in its country bring a more conciliatory Iran to the table? And how soon can some economic sanctions be passed? Clearly, U.S. sanctions aren't enough, but could the U.S. cobble together a coalition of countries in Europe to impose some sanctions if China continues to drag its feet? There are so many moving parts. Remember, Iran's potential nuclear threat -- unlike North Korea's -- can easily become a domestic political issue, as all things Middle East tend to do.


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Iran tests long-range missiles capable of reaching U.S. bases in the Middle East as tensions mount over the country's nuclear ambitions.

*** Applying the Powell Doctrine to Afghanistan: Turning to Afghanistan, the news over the weekend that Colin Powell was among those Obama was seeking advice about Afghanistan didn't get the attention it deserved. This could be the best hint yet that the president is rethinking the strategy to the point that not only are more troops NOT going to be sent, but we could see a re-deployment of some troops OUT of Afghanistan proper. By the way, the president is getting personal with his outreach on this issue, as he called John McCain over the weekend in what was described as a brief chat with the president making his case for deliberation.

*** A few other stray thoughts on Afghanistan: As Obama gathers his entire national security team at the White House on Tuesday, we're betting the president will -- at least -- outline a timeline for making a decision. And we're also guessing there will be some handwringing over all the leaks coming from the Pentagon. Also, for those wondering why Gen. McChrystal is getting so much support from Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, among others, it may have to do with the fact that McChrystal was recruited by Mullen to take over the Afghanistan command after the previous general was relieved of his duty. The least the leadership at the Pentagon can do is stand by their man on the ground. McChrystal, we're guessing, made a pretty good first impression to many in Washington on "60 Minutes" last night.


Video
: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said defeat in Afghanistan is not an option. So is a change of strategy needed to secure victory?

*** Copenhagen here we come: As NBC's Savannah Guthrie first reported on TODAY, President Obama will reverse course and travel to Copenhagen to take part in Chicago's presentation to host the 2016 Olympics. (Who didn't see this coming…?) He will depart Washington Thursday evening to be in place for Chicago's presentation on Friday. Obama made the final decision Saturday night, after previously saying he would not be able to attend because of the health care debate, dispatching First Lady Michelle Obama to make Chicago's pitch in his stead. Guthrie adds that the first lady is still planning to attend and will travel Tuesday night as previously planned to spend the week lobbying International Olympic Committee officials. Other administration officials planning to attend include Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The IOC will hold a series of votes Friday to determine which of the four finalist cities -- Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo -- will host the games.


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President Obama will travel to Copenhagen to make a personal pitch for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympic Games.*** Chicago-style politics: This is a classic case of "All politics is local." Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid has seemed like a shoo-in to many observers for a few reasons, including: 1) it's been 20 years since the U.S. last hosted an Olympics; 2) the IOC is struggling to make the 2014 Winter Olympics enticing for sponsors, and they're desperate to link it to a big summer draw in 2016; and 3) McDonald's is one of the most loyal Olympic sponsors in history, and if Coke could get an Olympics in Atlanta, then why couldn't McDonald's get one for its hometown of Chicago? But, as of late, Chicago political leaders have been paranoid that Rio's bid has been gaining ground, and Brazil was sending ITS president (Lula) to personally make their final pitch. Rio's best selling point is that South America has never hosted an Olympic Games (perhaps the reason: It's winter there during our summers…) So Chicago has been pulling out all the stops, including Oprah and now Obama. Bottom line: The president and his Chicago-area advisers were getting all sorts of "If he doesn't go and Chicago doesn't get it" veiled threats, and so he was boxed in. Better to go and not get it, right? Without a doubt, however, getting Obama to Copenhagen is a big win for mayor Daley.

*** Don't forget about the economy and health care: While the focus is on foreign affairs, the economy and health care aren't going away anytime soon. On Friday, the Labor Department will release the all-important job numbers for September (will the unemployment rate decline, or will it reach 10%?). And Max Baucus' Senate Finance Committee tries to finish its health-care bill this week. And as Baucus' committee concludes its work, liberal groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America are running a TV ad in Montana and DC that pressures the senator to support the public option. By the way, this New York Times piece makes public what many on Capitol Hill had already believed: that the White House is playing the role of Senate Majority Leader on health care; it's the White House cutting the deals and wooing Snowe, Collins, and the like.

*** Paterson says he's still running: On "Meet the Press" yesterday, embattled New York Gov. David Paterson told NBC's David Gregory that he's running for election next year. "I'm blind, but I'm not oblivious. I realize that there are people who don't want me to run," he said. "But let me just tell you at the outset, I am running for governor in 2010. I don't think that this is an issue other than for the people of the state of New York to decide.

*** RIP, William Safire: The former Nixon speechwriter and conservative New York Times columnist passed away yesterday. He was 79. The New York Times' obituary: "There may be many sides in a genteel debate, but in the Safire world of politics and journalism it was simpler: There was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the blubber of fools he called 'nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.' He was a college dropout and proud of it, a public relations go-getter who set up the famous Nixon-Khrushchev 'kitchen debate' in Moscow, and a White House wordsmith in the tumultuous era of war in Vietnam, Nixon's visit to China and the gathering storm of the Watergate scandal, which drove the president from office."

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