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Obama Softens on Iraq Withdrawal Timeline

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks during a news conference held at Hector International Airport in Fargo, N.D., July 3, 2008. (Associated Press)

By Jonathan Weisman
FARGO, N.D. -- Sen. Barack Obama left open the possibility of slowing his promised, 16-month withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, saying he would consult with military commanders on an upcoming trip to the region to ensure a withdrawal would keep troops safe and Iraq stable.

"My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything I've said, was always premised on making sure our troops were safe," Obama told reporters as his campaign plane landed in North Dakota. "And my guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable. And I'm going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold."

Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has long said the nation "must be as careful getting out of Iraq as it was reckless going in," but during his hard-fought primary fight with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he stuck to a timeline that foresaw withdrawing one to two combat brigades from Iraq a month.

In recent weeks, Republicans and some Democratic-leaning military experts have said conditions have changed so dramatically that Obama would have to rethink that goal. His own advisers have sent mixed messages. Sen. Claire C. McCaskill (D-Mo.), a strong Obama supporter, has firmly maintained he has not shifted on Iraq at all. But foreign policy adviser Susan Rice, in recent days, appeared to take a more flexible approach.

Today's comments from Obama were the most extended on the issue, and they leaned hard toward flexibility, even as he said his position has not shifted.

He stressed that he still believes it would be "a strategic error for us to maintain a longterm occupation in Iraq" when conditions in Afghanistan have worsened, Al-Qaeda has been regrouping in Pakistan and U.S. resources have been strained as the nation spends $10 billion to $12 billion a month in Iraq "that we desperately need here at home."

But, he added, "I have always said I would listen to the commanders on the ground. I have always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed. When I go to Iraq and have time to talk to the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information."

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 3, 2008; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama , National Security , On the Issues  
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