Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama lumped together President Bush, Republican John McCain, and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in his critique of the Iraq war yesterday, saying that they allowed ideology and politics to cloud their judgment.
Obama said the war began five years ago yesterday because too many politicians in Washington spent too little time reading intelligence reports and too much time reading public opinion - a slap at Clinton, who has acknowledged not digesting reports on Iraq's weapons programs before her 2002 vote authorizing the conflict.
Obama also assailed Clinton for contending that her experience makes her more qualified than him to be commander in chief, saying that plays right into the hands of McCain, who has more years in Washington and more national security credentials.
"The way to win that debate and to keep America safe is to offer a clear contrast, and that's what I will do when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party - because since before this war in Iraq began, I have made different judgments, I have a different vision, and I will offer a clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past," Obama told military families and local officials in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg, one of the nation's largest military bases. Special Forces from Fort Bragg were among the first soldiers in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and its paratroopers led last year's troop surge.
In the speech, Obama said that the Iraq war has emboldened Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, and North Korea and that without ending it, the United States can't address its national security and foreign policy needs.
He called for a renewed focus on Afghanistan to finish the fight against the Taliban and root out Al Qaeda, including $1 billion more a year in nonmilitary assistance to help the Afghan people. He also proposed a comprehensive antiterrorism strategy and enhanced efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, cut global poverty in half, and reduce global warming.
"I have no illusions that any of this will be easy," he said. "But I do know that we can only begin to make these changes when we end the mindset that focuses on Iraq and ignores the rest of the world."
Obama also teased McCain for a gaffe the Arizona senator made Tuesday while touring the Middle East, when McCain said several times that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. Iran is a predominantly Shi'ite Muslim country and has been at pains to close its borders to Al Qaeda fighters of the rival Sunni sect.
"Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no Al Qaeda ties," Obama said. "Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades."
Clinton, campaigning in Michigan, vowed to bring US troops home in a phased withdrawal. And her campaign released a web video questioning Obama's commitment to end the war, splicing together clips of him pledging to withdraw combat troops within 16 months of taking office and clips of former adviser Samantha Power calling his plan a "best-case scenario."
McCain, however, reiterated his position on Iraq.
"America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism," he said, warning of dire consequences if the US withdraws from Iraq too soon.
"Senator Obama says that ending the war will not be easy, that there will be dangers involved," McCain's senior adviser, Mark Salter, said in a statement. "Yet, in that patented way of his, he declines to name those dangers. Let me enumerate a few: Al Qaeda, which is now on the run, will survive, claim victory, and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the 'tactics' of the surge, still exist and are ripe for provocation by Al Qaeda, which would almost certainly ignite again civil war in Iraq, a civil war that could easily descend into genocide."