Barack Obama, under fire from Republicans in recent days for supposedly changing his tune on Iraq, forcefully restated his bottom-line policy on the war in an opinion piece published today and plans to give what his campaign calls a "major policy address on Iraq and national security" Tuesday in Washington.
In the op-ed piece in The New York Times titled "My Plan for Iraq," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee declares that the call by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for withdrawing US troops "presents an enormous opportunity."
"We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States," Obama writes. "....We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 -- two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal."
A drawdown in Iraq, Obama argues, would allow more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, which he has long argued is the real battlefront against Al Qaeda.
"We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq," Obama writes.
Obama plans to visit Iraq soon -- for the first time since January 2006, as Republicans are fond of pointing out. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has been trying to press the argument that a withdrawal from Iraq would amount to surrender.
The McCain campaign issued a lengthy response, saying that the op-ed shows that Obama has no intention of allowing the facts on the ground in Iraq to get in the way of his journey to a politically convenient position on the war.
"On the one hand, Obama has made clear that he will never change course on Iraq, no matter the facts on the ground. In January 2007, he opposed the surge and said it would increase the violence in Iraq. In today's op-ed, he concedes that the surge has been successful 'in bringing down the level of violence' and that it has 'protected the Iraqi population.' Yet he says 'the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true.' So he still opposes the surge, despite the fact that it worked, despite the fact that it has saved thousands of Iraqi and hundreds of American lives. If we'd followed Obama's policy in January 2007, American troops would have withdrawn in the midst of horrible violence and bloodshed and Iraq would have been abandoned to al Qaeda and Shiite militias. Iraq would have been a failed state and a breeding ground for terror. But Obama still thinks that was the correct course of action!
"On the other hand," McCain's campaign continued, "Obama continues to obscure and obfuscate the facts of his Iraq plan. He may be sticking to it, but we will have no idea what it is until he puts it into action. It's a secret plan to end the war, except it won't end the war because there will be a residual force of undetermined size that remains in Iraq for an unspecified amount of time and that will carry out an as yet undefined mission. But that's only the beginning of the double talk. While Obama says today in his op-ed that he will 'safely redeploy our combat brigades,' and that 'we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in,' he told Fareed Zakaria yesterday that the withdrawal 'is going to be a messy affair.' Will our withdrawal be a humiliating disaster or careful drawdown that could leave 30,000 troops in Iraq for 10 years? One suspects Obama doesn't care so long as he wins 270 electoral votes on November 4."
As part of his tour of Europe and the Middle East, Obama plans to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas on July 23.
The Associated Press reports that word of the meeting came from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was in Paris for a Mediterranean summit.
"We welcome this meeting," Erekat said. If Obama is elected, he added, "we hope he will stay the course between Israel and the Palestinians in reaching peace and a two-state solution."
The Palestinians expressed satisfaction over the planned meeting, which comes months after McCain passed on meeting with the Palestinians during a brief visit to Israel, the AP said.
During the same visit, Obama is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli officials, the AP said. The Obama campaign declined to comment. The visit will be closely watched. The US is the key broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and officials on both sides are trying to get a feel on whether Obama will change US policy in the region. President Bush is trying to broker a peace agreement before he leaves office.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.