Barack Obama calls Iraq “the most important foreign-policy decision in a generation.” Accepting for arguments sake that this is true, exactly what is and has been Obama’s Iraq position? I’ve culled a number of interviews with Barack Obama on the Iraq War over the years. More importantly however, I’ve attempted to find archives of his website. I think that in many ways the website provides a more accurate representation of the candidates views. I’ve always found a significant difference in how well I am able to provide a coherent argument in written form as opposed to orally. With the written word, the author tends to sit and ponder exact phrasing and wording. With oral communication there is more room for error and mis-speaking. To convey something in a manner in which you did not mean it to be portrayed.
Obama’s website summarizes his opposition to the Iraq war as such: “As a candidate for the United States Senate in 2002, Obama put his political career on the line to oppose going to war in Iraq, and warned of “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.” Obama has been a consistent, principled and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq.”
In an October 2002, anti-war demonstration speech, Obama recognized that Saddam Hussein “repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity,” and he “butchers his own people.” Despite acknowledging the history of actrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, Obama came to the conclusion that Saddam posed no “imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors.”
Obama clearly feared “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences” from the very beginning.
“In 2003 and 2004, he spoke out against the war on the campaign trail”
Presently, Obama’s website asserts that “in 2003 and 2004, he spoke out against the war on the campaign trail.” This seems to largely be correct, but perhaps with a little more nuance than that phrase provides. Obama’s criticism of the war has been been fairly consistent, even within the confines of a war that was, in 2003 and 2004, still relatively well-stomached by the American electorate.
Thus, Obama’s statements to the Chicago Tribune that “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage” and his reluctance to criticize Democratic Presidential candidates Kerry or Edwards over the Iraq vote is understandable.
Even as he was saying these things to the press, BarackObama.com September 2004 provided: “Obama was the only Illinois senate candidate to publicly oppose President Bush’s plan to pre-emptively attack Iraq… Now that our troops are in Iraq, Obama will work toward ending deception that has shrouded our policies and forging international coalitions to share the burden of rebuilding… Obama will strive to restore truth and transparency to our policy in Iraq.”
Essentially, rather than re-fight the battle as to the advisability of the war in the first place, he moved on to advocating policies which he believed would provide stability and the quickest end to the war.
Obama said in September 2004, “If that strategy made sense and would lead ultimately to the pullout of U.S. troops but in the short term required additional troop strength to protect those who are already on the ground, then that’s something I would support.”
Obama was willing to accept the position of the Kerry campaign, calling for withdrawal within four years. “Given the situation on the ground, I think if we had our troops out in four years, that would be an extraordinary accomplishment,” Obama said.
Thus, through the 2004 election, Obama maintained a fairly clear position: He was against the war, but as he told PBS’s Charlie Rose: “Once we go in, then we’re committed…” “[O]nce the decision was made, then we’ve got to do everything we can to stabilize the country, to make it successful, because we’ll have too much at stake in the Middle East. And that’s the position that I continue to take.”
In 2005, he called for a phased withdrawal of our troops”
In late 1995 Obama began to increase his criticism of the Bush Administration’s policies.
In November 2005, Obama spoke to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in a speech entitled Moving Forward in Iraq. Obama proffered that we have to “manage our exit in a responsible way—with the hope of leaving a stable foundation for the future, but at the very least taking care not to plunge the country into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable crisis…” “We need to focus our attention on how to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say ‘reduce,’ and not ‘fully withdraw.’”
Obama continued to make his calls for political reconciliation, reconstruction and international engagment that had been the hallmarks of his past criticisms. He was now adding troop reductions and general timetables for withdrawal.
In 2006, he called for a timetable to remove our troops, a political solution within Iraq, and aggressive diplomacy with all of Iraq’s neighbors”
In October 2006, Obama had the following to say on Meet the Press: “given the rapidly deteriorating situation down there, it is incumbent upon all the leadership in Washington to execute a serious change of course in Iraq, and I think that involves a phased—the beginnings of a phased withdrawal that would put more of the onus on the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to make a decision about what kind of Iraq they want, and also to engage the regional powers—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria—to say, “You can’t sit on the sidelines. You have a stake in a stabilized Iraq.”
He continued “well, what I would do is to sit down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at this point and say, ‘We are going to begin this phased withdrawal. How quickly can we begin this in a responsible way, in consultation with the Iraqi government?’ And it may be now—keep in mind, I was writing this three or four months ago—it may be, at this point, that it happens at the beginning of the year. But the most important thing is to send a strong signal that we can’t arbitrate a civil war. We can’t impose a military solution on the problems in Iraq. What we’re going to have to do is make all the parties involved come to some sort of political accommodation. And they’re going to have to make a decision about the kind of country that they want to live in.”
In November 2006, Obama spoke to the Chicago Council on Global Affairsin a speech entitled A Way Forward in Iraq. “For the fact is that there are no good options left in this war. There are no options that do not carry significant risks. And so the question is not whether there is some magic formula for success, or guarantee against failure, in Iraq. Rather, the question is what strategies, imperfect though they may be, are most likely to achieve the best outcome in Iraq, one that will ultimately put us on a more effective course to deal with international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and other critical threats to our security.”
He continued: “When I first advocated steps along these lines over a year ago, I had hoped that this phased redeployment could begin by the end of 2006. Such a timetable may now need to begin in 2007, but begin it must. For only through this phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the U.S. is not going to hold together this country indefinitely – that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq.
Let me be more specific. The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces. He should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. When possible, this should be done in consultation with the Iraqi government – but it should not depend on Iraqi approval.”
Finally, in December 2006, Obama issued a
Statement on Iraq Study Group Report. “I agree with the Study Group’s call for a significant redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq. As I said a few weeks ago, there are no good options left in Iraq, but I believe a redeployment is the best way to finally reach a political agreement between the warring factions.”
In January 2007, he introduced legislation in the Senate to remove all of our combat troops from Iraq by March 2008″
After President Bush announced the Surge, Obama Offers Plan to Stop Escalation of Iraq War, Begin Phased Redeployment of Troops.
“The Obama plan offers a responsible yet effective alternative to the President’s failed policy of escalation. Realizing there can be no military solution in Iraq, it focuses instead on reaching a political solution in Iraq, protecting our interests in the region, and bringing this war to a responsible end. The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008, a date that is consistent with the expectation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism, and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces. If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the thirteen benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush Administration, this plan also allows for the temporary suspension of the redeployment, provided Congress agrees that the benchmarks have been met and that the suspension is in the national security interest of the United States.”
In September 2007, he laid out a detailed plan for how he will end the war as president”
In early September 2007, just two months after the Surge was fully in place, Obama was already declaring that “the Surge is not working.” Thus Barack Obama revealed his Plan For Turning the Page in Iraq.
Obama’s Iraq Plan calls for (1) a substantial, immediate redeployment of all American Troops by the end of 2008 (2) a new effort towards Iraqi National Reconcilation (3) a Diplomatic Surge in the Middle East (4) addressing Iraq’s humanitarian crisis.