Barack and Iraq

By David Swanson

I shortchanged Barack Obama in my report on MoveOn’s candidates’ interviews

So, I took a look at his website, and the initial impression is quite encouraging. It certainly appears that he really wants to end the war. But a closer look tells a different story: he may want to end the war, but he really wants the war to make him president.

His website has a section on Iraq that reads:

“Bringing an End to the Iraq War: Before the war in Iraq began, Senator Obama had the courage to stand up to the politics and propaganda and speak out against a war he knew to be ill-conceived. [Not illegal, not immoral, just ill-conceived.] Over the last four years, Senator Obama’s position has been clear and consistent: the decision to go to war was a mistake. And we should be as careful pulling our troops out as we were careless going in. [Not a crime, just a mistake. And we shouldn’t end it quickly, but carefully.] In January, Senator Obama introduced the Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007. It moves to reverse the President’s dangerous escalation and set a new policy for the United States in Iraq that will bring a responsible end to the war and make the prospect of a long-term peace possible.”

If you read the text of this bill (S. 433) at you’ll see that it tries to end the war by next March, but does not use the power of the purse to make it happen, and allows all the usual exceptions, so that effectively the war doesn’t have to end at all.

On his website’s Iraq page, Obama also has a timeline, making claims about his anti-war work each year from 2002 through 2008. (Yes, 2008.) In 2002 and 2003, Obama made some mild comments disagreeing with the war or the way it was being managed. In 2004, Obama said that Democrats should take position, but apparently he didn’t take any he considers worthy of remembering. In 2005, he said he wanted to “stabilize” Iraq and then see a phased withdrawal (which suggests that he believed and still believes that Iraq can be stabilized prior to ending the occupation). In 2006, he said the war upset him. In 2007, encouragingly, he said there can be no military solution, and that the US needs to “redeploy.” In 2008, of course, he hopes to get elected president, as do many of the other Democratic candidates, by opposing a war that will still be ongoing, to his benefit.

The problem with this, of course, is that while Obama says he wants to end the war, he has – unlike Dennis Kucinich – voted to fund it, and he has even gone so far as to assure President Bush that if he vetoes the Supplemental spending bill, the Congress will send him what he wants, a spending bill with no strings attached.

So, I was unsure what to expect when I turned to the MoveOn transcript. Here it is, with my bracketed comments:

Anita Todras: My name is Anita Todras, in your opinion, what is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I, as you know, I opposed this war from the start. In part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002, we would have an open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now. And I have stated clearly and unequivocally that that open-ended occupation has to end.

The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving, because it takes a security detail of 100 soldiers, 3 Black Hawk helicopters, and couple of Apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad, it’s simply not credible, and it’s not reflective of the facts on the ground. We know that 14 people were killed by a suicide bomber today in Baghdad, we know that 152 people were killed by a suicide truck bombing. In a week, the deadliest single attack since the war began, and we understand that 40 Americans have been killed in just the first 10 days of April.

So the hard truth is, there’s no military solution to this war. Our troops have done all that they have been asked and more, but no amount of American soldiers are gonna solve the political differences that lie in the heart of the sectarian conflict. [Which the United States has played such a role in creating!] So, the news today that the Pentagon is considering extending the surge by extending the tour of 15,000 troops, the National Guard is about the call up another 13,000 soldiers before they were scheduled to deploy. All of this is just going to put more men and women in the crossfire of a civil war, so…

Since January, I have put forward a very specific plan that is designed to create the last best hope to pressure the Sunni and the Shia to reach political accommodation. [Why blame the victims?] That’s to let the Iraqi government know that America is not going to be there indefinitely. So, what my plan says is that on May 1st of this year, we need to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq, with the goal of removing all combat troops by March 31st of next year. And we’ve got 54 sponsors so far on the bill. We’re gonna keep on pushing that agenda. [Yeah? The Library of Congress says you have 3 cosponsors. Who are the other 51? And why don’t you just pass it, since they make up a majority?]

Now, I recognize that President Bush has indicated that he is going to veto a timetable that is attached to any supplemental, and my belief is that we’re gonna have to continue to ratchet up the pressure and re-present to him legislation that contains some constraints on his actions and has some mechanism whereby we can start getting combat troops out. The withdrawal has to begin soon. It’s time to end this war. It’s time to refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and it’s time for us to work much more aggressively diplomatically both inside Iraq and regionally if we’re gonna see the kind of stability in Iraq that all of us hope for. [That’s pretty mushy, but it sounds like a willingness to give Bush a bill with no timetable, not even an unenforceable one like the one in your bill.]

ELI PARISER: Thank you, Senator Obama. Our second question for you is from MoveOn Member Alex Landry, a Reference Librarian from Alexandria, Virginia

Alex Landry: Hi, this is Alex Landry. My question is this: The Bush administration’s obstinate refusal to diplomatically engage parties such as Syria and Iran has clearly done nothing but harm the United States’ interests in the Middle East. How would you include these countries in the effort toward establishing a stable, responsible, and non-hostile government in Iraq?

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I’ve been saying for a year that we have to realize that the entire Middle East has a huge stake in the outcome of Iraq, and that we have to engage neighboring countries in finding a solution. Now, I believe that includes opening dialogue both Syria and Iran. We know these countries want us to fail… I’m under no illusions there, but I also know that neither Syria nor Iran want to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, and terrorism, and refugees and violence, since those could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region, including within their own countries. [They want a stable, peaceful Iraq? But they want the United States to fail? To fail at what? At keeping Iraq unstable and war-torn? Why stretch to make enemies?]

So, even as we remain steadfast in our opposition to their support of terrorism, even as we continue to put pressure on Iran to stand down on its nuclear ambitions, it’s absolutely critical that in concert with my proposal for a phased withdrawal from Iraq of American combat troops that we talk to the Syrians and the Iranians about playing a more constructive role in Iraq, and those who say we shouldn’t be talking to them ignore our own history.

Ronald Reagan during the Cold War called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but he consistently met with the Soviet Union because he recognized power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster. So, I think we have to have serious conversations with them. [That’s our model? Reagan? Labeling people evil?] I don’t think we should be naïve about what to anticipate from them. I think that they will continue to make mischief so long as they think that we’re gonna keep a lid on the violence in Iraq, but if we combine a phased withdrawal from Iraq, with the kind of diplomatic efforts that are necessary, with all parties in the region, then I think that we’ve got a chance for the kind of political opening that will ultimately make a real difference in Iraq.

ELI PARISER: Alright, and now our final question of the day for you, Senator Obama:
You just voted for Senate legislation that would hold President Bush accountable to bring an end to the war by laying out a timeline for troop withdrawal. The fight around this bill isn’t over yet, so will you commit only to support Iraq spending legislation with a timeline to bring the troops home?

SENATOR OBAMA: I’m committed to putting as much pressure on the President and this war as possible in a responsible fashion, and I’m hopeful that the President is going to heed the advice of some of his own party, including Rudy Giuliani to reach an agreement with the Democrats. [That sounds like a No combined with a fantasy about Bush not being a dictator.] But assuming that he vetoes the bill, I’m committed to finding the 67 votes we need to override this veto. I would support putting conditions on the next version of legislation if we can’t muster 67 votes, and I’m also looking at options of giving the President a much shorter leash moving to appropriate enough money for 3 to 4 months at a time, during which we continue to build more Republican support for veto override. [That still sounds like a No, which of course encourages Bush to veto.] So my belief is that this is just the first step in a continuing process of making this administration responsible to the American people, and to the young men and women who are being sent to Iraq. [That’s OK for you, since you want the war to elect you president nearly two years from now. It’s less OK for the people who will die in the meantime.] I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to simply give the President more of a ‘cart blanche’ than he’s already received, and I’m gonna be working diligently with leadership in the Senate and those in the House who share my view to make sure that we have the kind of legislation that is going to begin to bring an end to what has proven to be one of our biggest foreign policy failures in recent history. [One of? A failure? Not a crime?]

ELI PARISER: Senator Obama, I wanna thank you for joining us, spending this time with MoveOn members. You have one minute for your closing remarks.

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, Eli… you know, history, history is not going to judge the architects of this war kindly, but the books have yet to be written in our effort to bring in a responsible end to this conflict. [Maybe because you have yet to do it.] The notion that we in Congress would have the votes to send a timeline for withdrawal to the President’s desk was unimaginable just a few months ago, but it happened primarily because there are so many people in this country mobilized by organizations like MoveOn, that kept on writing and petitioning and making your voices heard, so we need to keep that up. If this President thinks he can continue to ignore the will of the American people and the American Congress, I think he’s badly mistaken. I’ve met too many families and known too many friends who’ve been touched by this war to let it go on and on, and on and on without end. So, with your help, we’re gonna be able to bring our troops home, I believe we’re gonna refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and as importantly, I think we have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring America’s image throughout the world, so I just am looking forward to being in a partnership with all of you in making that happen.

_______ End of transcript _______________

Let’s hope that MoveOn does NOT take Obama or any other member of Congress up on the proposal for a partnership. Let’s hope that citizens do not make the business of running the country subservient to the needs of an eternal election season or the cynical rhetoric of candidates hoping to run against a war that they could be busy ending now.

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