Obama Won't 'Rubber Stamp' Military Decisions
Exclusive: Obama discusses opposition to surge, support for troop withdrawal.
BAGHDAD, Iraq<br>July 21, 2008— -- After meeting with top U.S. military commanders and members of the Iraqi government, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said Monday his opposition to the surge and support for a firm timetable for the withdrawal of troops hasn't changed.
In an exclusive interview, Obama told "Nightline" that if elected president, "we're going to begin to phase out our troops."
Obama is seeing a vastly different Iraq than the one he saw when he last visited more than two years ago. Violence and American casualties are way down, and the streets of Baghdad are bustling again.
So far this month, five U.S. troops have been killed in combat, compared with 78 U.S. deaths last July. Attacks across the country are down more than 80 percent. Still, when asked if knowing what he knows now, he would support the surge, the senator said no.
"These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is, at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with, and one that I continue to disagree with -- is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."
Those broader issues mainly include Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama arrived in Iraq today after a weekend in Afghanistan, where increasing violence has caused concern.
Obama has said he wants to pull troops from Iraq and deploy them to Afghanistan.
"My argument would be we need to have some sort of time frame because we have to start planning if we want to get an additional two brigades in Afghanistan," he said. "We've got to start planning now.
"I said a year and a half ago that we needed more troops in Afghanistan -- at least two brigades," Obama said. "John McCain, at the time, didn't think that was necessary, and now there's a convergence around the notion that we need at least two and maybe three brigades in Afghanistan."
Despite differences with his Republican counterpart, Obama said that he and McCain both want to see success in Iraq.
"John McCain doesn't want to see us take a wrong strategy when it comes to fighting the war on terror," he said. "I think John McCain wants to see America safe, just like I do. And so, I respect his best judgments in many of these issues, but I think it's important to recognize that, on the majority of issues that we've faced in terms of foreign policy, not just over the past four years, but over the past six, seven years, that my batting average is pretty darn good."
When asked if he is committed to winning the war in Iraq, Obama said, "I don't think we have any choice. We have to win the broader war against terror that threatens America and its interests. I think that Iraq is one front on that war, but I think the central front is in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan."
The McCain campaign, however, cited Obama's statement that even in hindsight he would not support the surge in Iraq.
"Barack Obama admitted tonight that he would rather see failure in Iraq than concede that he was wrong about the surge," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "A candidate who places his political ambition ahead of our national interest does not pass the threshold to be commander in chief."
Speaking to a small crowd in Maine on Monday, McCain spoke about the success of the surge. "He said [the surge] would fail and he refuses to this day to acknowledge it's succeeded. And my friends, that's what judgment is about. That's why I'm qualified to lead and I don't need any on the job training," McCain said to applause.