July 3, 2008
(AP) - Democrat Barack Obama struggled Thursday to explain how his upcoming trip to Iraq might refine, but not basically alter, his promise to quickly remove U.S. combat troops from the war.
A dust up over war policy - one of the main issues separating the
Illinois senator from his Republican opponent, John McCain - overshadowed Obama's town-hall meeting here with veterans to talk about patriotism and his plans to care for them. Republicans
pounced on the chance to characterize Obama as altering one of the core policies that drove his candidacy "for the sake of political
expedience." He denied equally forcefully that he was shifting positions.
Arriving in Fargo, Obama hastily called a news conference to discuss news of a sixth straight month of nationwide job losses, but the questioning turned to Iraq policy and his impending trip there.
He left the impression that his talks with military commanders there could refine his promise to remove U.S. combat troops within 16 months of taking office.
"I have said throughout this campaign that this war was
ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to
come to an end," Obama said. "I have also said I would be deliberate
and careful about how we get out. That position has not changed. I
am not searching for maneuvering room with respect to that
He promised to summon the Joint Chiefs of Staff on his first day in office "and I will give them a new mission and that is to end this war, responsibly and deliberately, but decisively."
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 his position has not changed at all. He
pointed out he has always said, "We need to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." This means, he said, that his 16-month timeline "was always premised on" not endangering either U.S. troops or Iraq's stability, which he had previously been told by commanders was possible.
"I'm going to continue to gather information to see whether
those conditions still hold," he said. "My goal is to end this conflict as soon as possible."
Obama plans a visit this summer to Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The Illinois senator also has said he intends to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer as part of an official congressional trip that would be separate from the campaign-funded Mideast and European tour. It would be his second trip to Iraq.
McCain was an early supporter of increasing the number of U.S.
troops in Iraq as President Bush did last year. He wants to pursue
the current counterinsurgency tactics to give Iraqis time to work
out a political reconciliation. He has said he's willing to see
some U.S. troops stay there as much as 100 years but not if they
are being wounded or killed in combat. Rather he supports keeping a
military presence in that part of the world because of its