ABC: Obama candid about disagreements with commanders in Iraq
ABC's Terry Moran interviewed Barack Obama in Baghdad on Monday, pressing him hard on both his support of a timetable for withdrawal and his previous opposition to the surge.
Moran suggested that many of the commanders in Iraq have "deep concerns" about Obama's plan to withdraw troops on a 16-month timetable, but Obama cautioned, "I would characterize the concerns differently."
"I don't think that they're deep concerns about the notion of a pullout per se," he stated. "There are deep concerns about, from their perspective, a timetable that doesn't take into account what they anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."
"My job is to think about the national security interests as a whole," Obama continued, "and to weigh and balance risks in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their job is just to get the job done here, and I completely understand that.
"What I refuse to do," Obama insisted, "is to get boxed in to what I consider two false choices. Which is either I have a rigid timeline of such-and-such a date, come hell or high water ... or, alternatively, I am completely deferring to whatever the commanders on the ground says -- which is what George Bush says he's doing -- in which case I'm not doing my job as commander-in-chief."
Obama added that "Prime Minister Maliki stated that he very much believes that there has to be a timeframe built into whatever agreements are set up between the United States and Iraq but, again, I think his view is that he wants some flexibility in terms of how that's carried out."
Moran pointed out that Obama opposed the troop surge when it was announced in February 2007, saying he didn't think it would make a significant difference. "Would you say, based on what you see here, that you were wrong?" asked Moran.
"I did not anticipate ... the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni Awakening, in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided they'd had enough with al Qaeda, in the Shia community the militias standing down to some degree," Obama acknowledged. "So what you had was a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops."
"Had those political factors not occurred, I think my assessment would have been correct," he insisted. He pointed out that even without the surge, "the Sunnis might have made the same decision at that time, the Shias might have made similar decisions. ... Nobody has a crystal ball."
"But it is a question of judgment, isn't it?" asked Moran. McCain says his judgment was correct."
"Except for the fact that in the meantime we've spent an additional $200-300 billion dollars," Obama replied. "The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated by every measure. Al Qaeda is still running loose."
"If you focus narrowly on the tactics inside of Iraq, then you get one perspective," Obama emphasized. "If, on the other hand, your job ... is to make a serious of difficult choices and calculations about what is going to lead to our long-term security, then you get a different perspective. What I've been trying to push throughout this campaign is for that broader view."
"Knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?" Moran asked.
"No," Obama replied firmly, adding that "these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult."
"What I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time we had to change the political debate," Obama concluded. "We have to win the broader war against terror that threatens American and its interests. I think that Iraq is one front on that war. But I think that the central front is in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan."
This video is from ABC's Nightlink, broadcast July 21, 2008.