Obama's Biggest Flip-Flop on Iraq

In a speech on the floor of the United States Senate on June 21, 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama warned against a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq that would endanger Iraq and the United States.  Here is the complete text of that speech.  You can hear an audio excerpt here.  The more important parts of the speech are highlighted with italics by the author.

Later, while still a Senator, Obama opposed President George Bush’s surge policy that turned the war around and enabled Obama to begin his presidency with a relatively stable Iraq.  As President, Obama then proceeded to do the opposite of what he advocated in this speech, leaving Iraq, the Middle East, and the United States with the horrors Obama predicted would result if his advice were not followed.

This strongly suggests that Obama’s speech in 2006 was a lie in order to maintain his political viability, because he did not want to appear as if he would completely abandon Iraq.  Obama stated:

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Michigan for managing this fine amendment.

In October of 2002, I delivered a speech opposing the war in Iraq.

I said that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless man, but that he posed no imminent and direct threat to the United States.

I said that a war in Iraq would take our focus away from our efforts to defeat al-Qaida.

And, with a volatile mix of ethnic groups and a complicated history, I said that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

In short, I felt the decision unfolding then to invade Iraq was being made without a clear rationale, based more on ideology and politics than fact and reason.

It is with no great pleasure that I recall this now.  Too many young men and women have died.  Too many have been maimed.  Too many hearts have been broken.  I fervently wish I had been wrong about this war; that my concerns had been unfounded.

America and the American people have paid a high price for the decision to invade Iraq and myriad mistakes that followed.  I believe that history will not judge the authors of this war kindly.

For all these reasons, I would like nothing more than to support the Kerry amendment; to bring our brave troops home on a date certain, and spare the American people more pain, suffering and sorrow.

But having visited Iraq, I am also acutely aware that a precipitous withdrawal of our troops, driven by congressional edict rather than the realities on the ground, will not undo the mistakes made by this administration.  It could compound them.

It could compound them by plunging Iraq into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable crisis.

We must exit Iraq, but not in a way that leaves behind a security vacuum filled with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing and genocide that could engulf large swaths of the Middle East and endanger America.  We have both moral and national security reasons to manage our exit in a responsible way.

I share many of the goals set forth in the Kerry amendment.  We should send a clear message to the Iraqis that we won’t be there forever, and that by next year our primary role should be to conduct counterinsurgency actions, train Iraqi security forces, and provide needed logistical support.

Moreover, I share the frustration with an administration whose policies with respect to Iraq seem to simply repeat the simple-minded refrains of  “we know best” and “stay the course.”  It’s not acceptable to conduct a war where our goals and strategies drift aimlessly regardless of the cost in lives or dollars spent, and where we end up with arbitrary, poll-driven troop reductions by the administration--the worst of all possible outcomes.

As one who strongly opposed the decision to go to war and who has met with servicemen and women injured in this conflict and seen the pain of the parents and loved ones of those who have died in Iraq, I would like nothing more than for our military involvement to end.

But I do not believe that setting a date certain for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops is the best approach to achieving, in a methodical and responsible way, the three basic goals that should drive our Iraq policy: that is, (1) stabilizing Iraq and giving the factions within Iraq the space they need to forge a political settlement; (2) containing and ultimately defeating the insurgency in Iraq; and (3) bringing our troops safely home.

What is needed is a blueprint for an expeditious yet responsible exit from Iraq.  A hard and fast, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal offers our commanders in the field, and our diplomats in the region, insufficient flexibility to implement that strategy.

For example, let’s say that a phased withdrawal results in 50,000 troops in Iraq by July 19, 2007.  If, at that point, our generals and the Iraqi Government tell us that having those troops in Iraq for an additional 3 or 6 months would enhance stability and security in the region, this amendment would potentially prevent us from pursuing the optimal policy.

It is for this reason that I cannot support the Kerry amendment.  Instead, I am a cosponsor of the Levin amendment, which gives us the best opportunity to find this balance between our need to begin a phase-down and our need to help stabilize Iraq.  It tells the Iraqis that we won’t be there forever so that they need to move forward on uniting and securing their country.  I agree with Senator Warner that the message should be “we really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it.”  At the same time, the amendment also provides the Iraqis the time and the opportunity to accomplish this critical goal.

Essential to a successful policy is the administration listening to its generals and diplomats and members of Congress especially those who disagree with their policies and believe it is time to start bringing our troops home.

The overwhelming majority of the Senate is already on record voting for an amendment stating that calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security, creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.  The Levin amendment builds on this approach.

The White House should follow this principle as well.  Visiting Iraq for a few hours cannot resuscitate or justify a failed policy.  No amount of spin or photo opportunities can change the bottom line: this war has been poorly conceived and poorly managed by the White House, and that is why it has been so poorly received by the American people.

And it is troubling to already see Karl Rove in New Hampshire, treating this as a political attack opportunity instead of a major national challenge around which to rally the country.

There are no easy answers to this war.  I understand that many Americans want to see our troops come home.  The chaos, violence, and horrors in Iraq are gut-wrenching reminders of what our men and women in uniform, some just months out of high school, must confront on a daily basis.  They are doing this heroically, they are doing this selflessly, and more than 2,500 of them have now made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Not one of us wants to see our servicemen and women in harm's way a day longer than they have to be.  And that's why we must find the most responsible way to bring them home as quickly as possible, while still leaving the foundation of a secure Iraq that will not endanger the free world.

If only President Obama had followed the advice of Senator Obama.

Allan J. Favish is an attorney in Los Angeles.  His website is allanfavish.com.  He has co-authored with James Fernald a book about what might happen if the government ran Disneyland entitled "Fireworks! If the Government Ran the Fairest Kingdom of Them All (A Very Unauthorized Fantasy).

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