Obama takes heat for remarks on Iraq, but insists he still wants an end to the war
Senator Barack Obama took heat on Tuesday night for remarks that he made earlier in the month on Congress's role in responding to President George W. Bush's request for a "clean" bill to fund the war in Iraq. But in a RAW STORY exclusive, a spokesman for Obama's campaign questioned the basis for the statements of his critics.
Competitors with Senator Obama for the Democratic nomination took aim at the Illinois Democrat in a Tuesday night candidates' forum hosted by MoveOn.org.
"This is not the time for political calculation, this is the time for political courage," said former Senator John Edwards in at the forum.
Edwards, who is generally seen to be in third place in the campaign, made it clear with a subsequent comment that he was referring to Obama.
"This is not a game of Chicken. This is not about making friends or keeping Joe Lieberman happy. This is about life and death," he added.
Edwards' reference to "playing chicken" pointed back to an AP interview that Obama gave on April 1 while campaigning in Iowa.
"I think that nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I don't think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage."
A spokesman from the Obama campaign told RAW STORY that he didn't agree that anyone could legitimately paint the freshman Senator as in favor of continuing the war in Iraq.
"Americans understand that Senator Obama was against the war from the beginning, and he is in favor of the quickest, responsible way to bring an end to it," the spokesman said.
The spokesman also didn't appear to agree with the AP reporter's suggestion that the Senator had accused fellow Democrats of "playing chicken."
"The President is the one who is using our troops in a partisan way to force legislation that does not allow for accountability when it comes to the war in Iraq," the campaign spokesman added. "That's not the kind of White House that Senator Obama is going to run."
Still, the criticism directed at Obama by fellow Democrats seemed likely to expand.
Senator John McCain referred to the AP interview in a major speech and suggested that other Democrats should consider Obama's words as encouragement to continue fighting the war in Iraq.
"I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for President, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country," said Senator McCain, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute.
Senator Obama responded testily to McCain's remarks in a statement put out by his campaign just after the VMI speech.
"No matter how much this Administration wishes it to be true, the idea that the situation in Iraq is improving because it only takes a security detail of 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible or reflective of the facts on the ground," he commented, pointing to Senator McCain's recent visit to Baghdad.
Obama also called for a "surge of honesty" and insisted that he was still for a withdrawal from Iraq.
"I believe that letting the Iraqi government know America will not be there forever is the best way to pressure the warring factions toward this political settlement, which is why my plan begins a phased withdrawal from Iraq on May 1st, 2007, with the goal of removing all combat troops by March 31st, 2008," he added, referring to the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act" which he sponsored in January.
On CNN yesterday, Obama further clarified his position, accusing McCain of "misquoting me a little bit there." Instead, he put the onus on the president.
"If he decides to veto it, I think the president is the one who is putting troop funding at risk," he argued. "My advice at that point to Democrats would be to try to ratchet up the pressure, to shape a series of other conditions that can somehow rein in what I consider to be a continuation of a disastrous course on the part of this administration."
However, the Senator did say that he wouldn't seek to completely cut off funding for the war.
"I am not yet at the point where I am prepared to say that I am going to cut off funding, partly because I spent a lot of time in Iowa, in Illinois, in small communities where every town hall meeting I have I meet with a mother whose son or daughter is in Iraq and they are concerned not only about getting them home but also concerned about getting them home safely and making sure they’ve got the night vision goggles and the armor and so forth," he told Wolf Blitzer.
The reaction of one of his challengers to this position showed that some Democrats will continue criticizing Senator Obama as failing to take a strong enough stance against the war.
"That's not a surprise, the degree to which people are surprised is the degree to which they've been sleeping," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who voted against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 and is running for president for the second time. "He's voted to fund the war at least ten times, each time, it's like reauthorizing it all over again. If they keep voting to fund the war, it's not credible to say they are for peace."
Kucinich also questioned Obama's approach of proposing a timeline for withdrawal.
"Yeah, I have a timetable, it's called now," he quipped. "There's no reason why Democrats should give the president any money, they have the power to end the war now."