Worth a read to understand Senator Obama’s stance on Iraq.

By Barack Obama

Courtesy of the New York Times

CHICAGO — The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a
timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an
enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased
redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is
needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the
United States.

The
differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John
McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as
president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be
distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading
a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the
9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we
have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly
every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown.

In
the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have
performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New
tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have
rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But
the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The
strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has
deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we
had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of
dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have
not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of
the surge.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take
responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the
removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the
American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces,
estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume
responsibility for security in 2009.

Only by redeploying our
troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political
accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking
responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead
of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush
administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this
transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of
Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of
American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over
to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for
success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will
of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of
the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give
the military a new mission: ending this war.

As I’ve said many
times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless
getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that
would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two
years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After
this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited
missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia,
protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make
political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a
precipitous withdrawal.

In carrying out this strategy, we would
inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I
would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to
ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests
protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile
areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation
in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a
new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.

Ending the
war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda
has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on
terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have
sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce
our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new
strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat
brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops,
more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary
assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our
military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided
desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

In this campaign,
there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with
the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it
absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our
permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of
Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for
far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in
the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful
debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war.

Barack Obama, a United States senator from Illinois, is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Courtesy of the New York Times

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