Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Obama: Iraq Drawdown Should Start Immediately

Just hours before a scheduled major foreign policy address in eastern Iowa Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told the Iowa Independent and Carroll Daily Times Herald the United States needs to begin an immediate phased redeployment of combat troops out of Iraq.

Obama’s plan calls for troops to be removed from Iraq — one or two brigades a month — starting now from secure areas followed by more volatile ones with the intent of having all U.S. combat troops out by the end of 2008.

“What I’m focused on is how do we not only bring that war to a close but also put our foreign policy on a firm footing for the future,” Obama said in a phone interview with a writer for the newspaper and Web site as he traveled to Clinton, Iowa, for the speech this afternoon.

With the plan Obama is attempting to position himself as the Democratic presidential aspirant with the most aggressive strategy for disengaging militarily from the beleaguered nation and a war the Illinois senator believes has been a costly and tragic distraction from the broader battle against terrorism.

In the 15-minute, one-on-one interview just before 10 this morning, Obama previewed key elements of his Iraq speech before answering several questions on agriculture and rural affairs for a separate story that will be published as part of an uncoming package.

With Iraq Obama said the United States must redouble diplomacy in the region.

“That’s not just inside Iraq,” Obama said. “We also have to generate much more effective diplomacy outside of Iraq and that means talking to everyone, including the Iranians and Syrians.”

Third, Obama is calling for more humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

“We’ve got to unify the country and get beyond the politics when it comes to Iraq,” Obama said. “I was frustrated yesterday by the degree to which the administration continues to attempt to present this failed strategy in Iraq as part of the broader war on terrorism when in fact it has been an enormous distraction from us going after al-Qaeda in places like Afghanistan.”

On Tuesday, Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined other senators in questioning General David etraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador in Baghdad, about the state of affairs in that nation.

In the hearing, Obama asked angrily, “At what point do we say, enough?”

“My sense is after listening to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker that they were given their marching orders by the president and they will do what they can to try to move forward on what is a fundamentally failed strategy,” Obama said in the Daily Times Herald interview. “The problem right now is not with our military which is performing brilliantly. The problem is with the civilian leadership which continues to insist that somehow there is a military solution to what is essentially a political problem.”

Obama said the United States long-term presence is not only a hardship on the troops, and drain on the U.S. treasury, but that it serves as a recruitment tool for terrorists.

The following are excerpts of Obama's speech:

“Conventional thinking in Washington lined up for war. The pundits judged the political winds to be blowing in the direction of the President. Despite – or perhaps because of how much experience they had in Washington, too many politicians feared looking weak and failed to ask hard questions. Too many took the President at his word instead of reading the intelligence for themselves. Congress gave the President the authority to go to war. Our only opportunity to stop the war was lost.”

“There is something unreal about the debate that’s taking place in Washington… The bar for success is so low that it is almost buried in the sand. The American people have had enough of the shifting spin. We’ve had enough of extended deadlines for benchmarks that go unmet. We’ve had enough of mounting costs in Iraq and missed opportunities around the world. We’ve had enough of a war that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged.”

"I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed it in 2003. I opposed it in 2004. I opposed it in 2005. I opposed it in 2006. I introduced a plan in January to remove all of our combat brigades by next March. And I am here to say that we have to begin to end this war now.”

“Let me be clear: there is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq’s leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now. We should enter into talks with the Iraqi government to discuss the process of our drawdown. We must get out strategically and carefully, removing troops from secure areas first, and keeping troops in more volatile areas until later. But our drawdown should proceed at a steady pace of one or two brigades each month. If we start now, all of our combat brigades should be out of Iraq by the end of next year.”

“Some argue that we should just replace Prime Minister Maliki. But that wouldn’t solve the problem…The problems in Iraq are bigger than one man. Iraq needs a new Constitutional convention that would include representatives from all levels of Iraqi society – in and out of government. The United Nations should play a central role in convening and participating in this convention, which should not adjourn until a new accord on national reconciliation is reached.”

“The President would have us believe there are two choices: keep all of our troops in Iraq or abandon these Iraqis. I reject this choice... It’s time to form an international working group with the countries in the region, our European and Asian friends, and the United Nations…. We should up our share to at least $2 billion to support this effort; to expand access to social services for refugees in neighboring countries; and to ensure that Iraqis displaced inside their own country can find safe-haven. …. Iraqis must know that those who engage in mass violence will be brought to justice. We should lead in forming a commission at the U.N. to monitor and hold accountable perpetrators of war crimes within Iraq.”

“I’m here today because it’s not too late to come together as Americans. Because we’re not going to be able to deal with the challenges that confront us until we end this war. What we can do is say that we will not be prisoners of uncertainty. That we reject the conventional thinking that led us into Iraq and that didn’t ask hard questions until it was too late. What we can say is that we are ready for something new and something bold and something principled."


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