FARGO, N.D. — Democrat Barack Obama opened the door Thursday to refining his plan to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in 16 months based on what he hears from military commanders during his upcoming trip there.
“I am going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there,” he said. “I'm sure I'll have more information and continue to refine my policy.”
During his presidential campaign, Obama has gone from the hard-edged, vocal opposition to Iraq that defined his early candidacy to more nuanced rhetoric that calls for a phased-out drawdown of all combat brigades that, at a rate of one or two a month, could last 16 months. He has said that, if al-Qaida builds bases in Iraq, he would keep troops either in the country or the region for “targeted strikes.”
Republicans, who have been goading Obama to return to Iraq to see conditions for himself, pounced.
“There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the national Republican Party. “Obama's Iraq problem undermines the central premise of his candidacy and shows him to be a typical politician.”
Obama's GOP rival, John McCain, has been a vocal supporter of the Iraq war and war policy has been a central disagreement between the two candidates.
But Obama insisted that his position has not changed at all.
He said he is saying now what he always has: The war was a mistake and needs to be brought to “a responsible end,” but “we need to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.” This means, he said, that his 16-month time line “was always premised on” not endangering either U.S. troops or Iraq's stability
Obama's Web site contains this direct promise about Iraq: “Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al-Qaida attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al-Qaida.”