Here’s a transcript of Barack Obama’s comments on Iraq. Read the whole thing. I admit I am worried, but in his remarks Obama seems to be clear that he, not the generals, will decide Iraq policy. And he reaffirms, explicitly, his sixteen-month timetable for pulling out combat forces. What worries me, of course, is the change in emphasis that Obama seemed to be signaling, especially since Obama isunder a great deal of pressure from liberal hawks to modify his Iraq stand.
You’ll note in what follows that Obama seems to be concentrating not on the withdrawal pace, i.e, one to two brigades a month over 16 months, but on the residual force that will remain. He talks about “how we should structure training for Iraqi military and police [and] what kinds of troop presence will we need in order for that to occur?” Previously, though, Obama has said very, very little on training. Instead, he has talked about counterterrorism and protecting the huge US embassy. So the emphasis on training is worrisome.
What follows is the transcript of his news conference in Fargo, North Dakota, in which he attempted to “try this again”and clarify his original remarks:
Q: In your opening statement you talked about obtaining training data on Iraqi forces, what can you learn in Iraq that you can’t learn in Washington, D.C.
Obama: Well there’s no doubt that a lot of this info I’ve been obtaining in Washington but I also think it’s important to be in discussions directly not only with commanders but also Iraqi officials. And other leaders in the region.
Q: Your website says U.S. troops will be out in 16 months. Is there a need to modify that information?
Obama : You know, I have to say that there is nothing that that website says that contradicts what I’ve said here. I will bring this war to close, I think it is important for us to do strategically.
Q: What did you mean when you said you might refine your Iraq policies? Does that mean no 16-month timetable?
Obama: No that’s not no, not refine the 16-month timetable, what I just referred to. For example, there’s been a major debate in terms of how we should structure training for Iraqi military and police what kinds of troop presence will we need in order for that to occur. What kind of troop presences will we need in order for that to occur? What kind of troop presence do we need in order to provide a counterterrorism strike force in Iraq that assures that al Qaeda does not regain a foot hold there? Those are all issues that obviously need to be determined by facts on the ground.
Q: Do you think it will be a challenge to explain to American people your Iraq policy over the next four months if you’ve had a problem over past four hours?
A: I guess I’m just puzzled. I mean I’ll be frank with you Jeff (Zeleny, New York Times). I think what’s happened is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn’t. And that just hasn’t been the case. I’ve given no indication of a change in policy. I haven’t suggested that we’re moving in a different direction. I think John McCain’s gonna have a much harder time explaining how he is willing to perpetuate a presence in Iraq for 10, 20, 50 years. The American people understand that we have fulfilled our obligations in Iraq. They are not interested in seeing Iraq collapse, but they are interested in seeing this war come to a close and what I’ve said today, as I’ve said over the last 2 years, is that if you follow my plan to begin wthdrawing troops and having our comabt troops out in 16 months, we’re talking about approximately 2 years from now having our combat troops out. Add on the 5 years we’ve already been there and we will have been there for 7 years. I think the American people understand that that has been a significant committment both of blood and of treasure. So I don’t think I’m gonna have trouble explaining my plan. I think that what John McCain’s gonna have to do is explain why he wants to extend it even further than that.