Clinton, Obama Spar Over Iraq Withdrawal Comments

Mar 7, 2008 2:40pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis, Jennifer Parker, Sunlen Miller, Eloise Harper and Talal Al-Khatib Report: Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sparred Friday over comments made by Obama’s former senior policy adviser, Samantha Power, concerning Obama’s Iraq withdrawal policy.

In an interview yesterday with the BBC, Power said that Obama’s plan to get combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months is a "best case scenario."

"It would be the height of ideology, you know, to sort of say, well I said it therefore I’m going to impose it on whatever reality entreats me," Power told the BBC.

Senator Obama told a crowd in Casper, Wyoming that he doesn’t want people to be confused by his time frame for withdrawing troops from Iraq, he said, by Clinton’s interpretation of his former aide’s comment to BBC.

"I was opposed to this war in 2002. If it has been up to me we would have never been in this war. It was because of George Bush with an assist from Hillary Clinton and John McCain that we entered into this war," Obama said Friday.

"A war that should have never been authorized, a war that should have never been waged. I’ve been against it 2002, 2003, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8. And I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused. Don’t be confused when Senator Clinton is not even willing to acknowledge that she voted for war. She said she voted for diplomacy despite the title that said  authorization to use US arms forces in Iraq. I don’t want to play politics on this issue because she doesn’t have standing to question my position on this issue," Obama said.

On a conference call with reporters earlier Friday Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Obama has been "crystal clear with the American people that if and when he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in – as he said, the time frame would be about 16 months at the most where you withdraw troops. There should be no confusion about that with absolute clarity."

Plouffe’s also pointed to a comment by Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.), an ABC News consultant and one-time Clinton adviser, telling the New York Sun "he is convinced Mrs. Clinton would hold off on authorizing a wide-scale immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq."

Clinton today distanced herself from Keane’s remark.

"He is doesn’t work for my campaign he is not an adviser, he is one of the many military veterans whom I respected whom I am very pleased to have offer advice from time to time. He is not within the campaign," Clinton told reporters Friday.

Clinton decried comments Samantha Power made about Obama’s Iraq policy, saying she was "told about something that one of Senator Obama’s top foreign policy aides told the BBC recently about Iraq."

"While Senator Obama campaigns on his plan to end the war, his top advisors tell people abroad that he will not rely on his own plan should he become president. This is the latest example of promising the American people one thing on the campaign trail and telling people in other countries another. We saw this with NAFTA as well," Clinton said.

"He has attacked me continuously for having no hard exit date and now we learn that he doesn’t have one -– in fact he doesn’t have a plan at all according to his top foreign policy adviser," she said. "He keeps telling people one thing while his campaign tells people abroad something else I’m not sure what the American people should believe but I would refer you to the BBC interview in which the top foreign policy adviser is speaking about senator Obama and Iraq," Clinton said.

In response to Clinton’s remarks, Plouffe said, "Sen. Obama has said that one of his first, you know, sort of moments upon entering the Oval Office would be to sit down with his Joint Chiefs of Staff and make it very clear that a withdrawal is going to begin, and it needs to be done rapidly," he said.

"We need to quickly move to withdraw troops so that we can more effectively focus on some of the threats we’re facing in Afghanistan and other parts of the world," Plouffe said.

Although Plouffe forcefully sought to distance Obama from Power’s BBC interview on today’s conference call with reporters, Obama himself told CBS’ 60 minutes in February that he would reserve the right as commander-in-chief to reassess the situation in Iraq.

"And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?" CBS’s Kroft asked.

"No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation," Obama replied.

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