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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/14/2007

Obama Blurs Definition of 'Combat Troops'

By Michael Dobbs

Obama addresses town hall meeting in Iowa.

"I will remove all our combat troops. We will have troops [in Iraq] to protect our embassies and our civilian forces and we will engage in counter terroism activities."
--Barack Obama interview with New York Times, November 2007.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama has promised to remove "all combat troops" from Iraq. But he has also said that he might send troops back into the country to fight al Qaeda and "stop genocidal violence." Is he trying to have it both ways? I have previously looked at the Iraq platforms of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson, and am planning a similar look at the platforms of the leading Republican candidates.

The Facts

Of the major Democratic candidates, Obama has been the most consistent on Iraq. He was opposed to the war when it began in 2003, and he remains opposed to it today. At the same time, he has resisted the temptation to pretend that there is an easy or quick solution to the war. He has repeatedly said that "there are no good options in Iraq."

It is more difficult to find obvious contradictions in Obama's speeches on Iraq than in the statements of his Democratic rivals. The weakest chink in his rhetorical armor is his claim that he will withdraw all combat troops from Iraq "within 16 months" of taking office-but "continue to strike at al Qaeda in Iraq." He has acknowledged that these will be "combat missions."

The Obama campaign has tried to square the circle by insisting that Obama will withdraw all 20 combat brigades presently in Iraq. "A different force will be constituted," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, in an e-mail. "This would not be a brigade engaged in sustained combat. Rather, it would be a strike force that could take targeted action against specific al Qaeda assets."

The distinction between a "combat brigade" and a "strike force" seems a little spurious. Obama has declined to say whether he would station his strike force inside Iraq or in a neighboring country, such as Kuwait. It sounds a little like a shell game. All combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq within 16 months, but "strike forces" will be re-introduced as needed.

Like the other leading Democratic candidates, Obama says that some troops must remain to "protect American diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq." He is more explicit than his rivals in insisting that the other Democratic candidates in saying that the U.S. must be prepared to re-intervene in Iraq "to stop genocidal violence." According to an Iraq issue paper on Obama's website:

Obama would supply armed escorts to civilians who voluntarily choose to move from religiously heterogeneous areas to communities where they feel they will be more secure. He would reserve the right to intervene militarily, without international partners, to suppress genocidal violence within Iraq.

Given the size of Iraq, and the scale of the violence that could be unleashed by a U.S. withdrawal from the country, this is a huge commitment, potentially requiring tens of thousands of troops. He says he wants to keep U.S. troops out of an Iraqi "civil war," but this would plunge them right back into one, albeit with a limited mission.

The Pinocchio Test

Obama has generally avoided the rhetorical excesses of some of his Democratic rivals on Iraq. He does not gloss over all the negative things that could result from a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, including an upsurge in "genocidal violence." But he seems to be playing with words when he tries to draw a distinction between "combat" forces and "strike" forces. One Pinocchio.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | November 14, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama, Candidate Watch, Iraq  
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Next: Mitt Warns Illegals: 'Get Off My Lawn'


One nose?
More like 4 if you look at what he said and what he's done.
He's voted for war funding repeatedly, and against a deadline for removing the troops.

The guy's an empty suit.
He says what ever he can to get elected to the next office, but he's done NOTHING.

Posted by: B.Williams | November 14, 2007 7:29 AM | Report abuse

"He says what ever he can to get elected to the next office"

Yes...saying "no good options for Iraq" is clearly what the people want to hear.

The Post needs one of those little smiley icons that rolls its eyes.

Posted by: thegribbler1 | November 14, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I would trust Obama with going forward in Iraq more than any other candidate in either party simply on the basis of the predictions he made on what would happen in Iraq if we invaded.

He has the wisdom and judgement to lead on day one. Looking back at Clinton and Edwards' speeches on going into the war--I am still appalled today. People say it doesn't matter--but it shows a great deal about their judgement. They sound like neocons and were just so swept up in the march to war--not acting like leaders at all--not asking Americans to stop and think that this war could be a huge disaster.

I was on the streets of DC, as was my husband, before America went into Iraq and we saw then the same things that Obama saw--even if intelligence had shown Iraq was working on attaining WMDs--invading them would be a horrific mistake.

I stand by Obama because he had the judgement to see that too. Maybe because he actually knows people that are Muslim and understands their beliefs, as I do with my Muslim friends.

Why are we actually thinking of electing people to the presidency that didn't even, for instance, ask Bush about an exit strategy before voting to authorize the war? America--we've got to swallow our pride & learn from our mistakes!

Posted by: Obama Got it Right & I Trust Him | November 14, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

What? He was talking about special ops. They are quick strike forces e.g. the Seals.

Posted by: Tenn Gurl | November 14, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

People who say empty suit are hiding their real biases. If you go to his website or seen any of his plans he has been more specific than any other candidate including Clinton. It's all out there. Clinton won't even take a stand on Social Security the hallmark of Democratic policy. She will wait until Edwards or Obama put their plans out first, copy them and claim it as her own after it has been poll tested.

Anyway just state your real reason (race, class, education where he is from, jealousy, fear) not some cop out Hillary44 Mark Penn poll tested talking points.

Posted by: TennGurl | November 14, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

This evaluation is simply dishonest. There is a huge difference between having combat forces in Iraq fighting a war, and the very honest evaluation that a small contingent of special forces may need to be stationed close by to avert any attempt or terrorists to take advantage of our withdrawl.

Obama's position has been honest, consistent and long-held.

The pinnochio goes to fact check on this.

Posted by: bklynsam | November 14, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that on the one hand the press agrressively demands specifics and exactness from the candidates. And now when Obama has quite finely delineated what he plans to do he gets criticized for that also.

I second a previous comment which pointed out that "strike force" equates to a special forces unit. I think this is quite well understood by the American public! So I see no blurring of the definition there. .simply an attempt to make it crystal clear for the press and the public.

Also, I think that most Americans have come to the realization that in order to prevent large scale sectarian killing we'll have to have forces there. We started this . . . it's the honorable thing to do.

I see no blurring here. . .looks more like clarification to me.

Posted by: E.J. Butler | November 14, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

What do Clinton supporters see in her? Is it Bill? What has she ever said or done to inspire anyone?

I'm a New Yorker, so I see her as a carpetbagger. When Bobby Kennedy wanted to run for the presidency he too was a carpetbagger who 'returned' to New York to capture one of our Senate seats. But he did have roots in New York, at least his older brothers did in their early childhoods; his brother was married at my parish's church. So at least RFK had some attachments to New York before claiming the State's Seat in the Senate.

Hillary is like RFK in regards to being a carpetbagger.
But as for as the charismatic energetic Senator who has the ability to inspire and marvel an audience with potentially any speech he delivers...
Hands Down Obama is the one most like Bobby, in that regard.

What if Bobby lived?
An earlier withdrawal from Vietnam?
No Nixon; No Watergate? No early life experiences of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in another corrupt administration.
The end of a pointless Embargo on Cuba?

I just don't want to think forty years from now...What if Obama were elected?

He seems to be the genuine article. Maybe he won't live up to the hype; maybe he'll have a mediocre administration. After Bush 2, it seems statistically no one could do worse [knock on wood].

But what if he does clear the high bar that he's set? That chance at something great, something historical, far out weighs the possibility of not living up to the expectations.

Barack the Vote!

Posted by: Rob | November 14, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

This feature has consistently been little more than an opinion column with an unsuitable name and some suport citations. The Post needs to rein in Mr Dobbs' predilection for editorial or reconsider the title of his column.

Posted by: david | November 14, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Obama hasn't accomplished anything anywhere.

He's the GWB of the democrat party

Posted by: Tre | November 14, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

It's perfectly consistent if by "strike force" he means special forces/commandos going in for specific anti-Al Qaeda missions. Which is different from tens of thousands of "comabt troops" trying to control the whole country.

Posted by: ns | November 14, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

There is a clear difference between combat troops stationed as sitting ducks and "strike forces" who achieve mission-specific objectives. Just ask all the special forces we have sitting around in Iraq trying to quell a civil war. That isn't what they were trained to do, and it isn't what they ought to be doing. I believe that's what Obama is saying, and it makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: K Martingayle | November 14, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

People say Obama's done nothing...
Columbia, Harvard Law, Neighborhood Organizer, IL-State Senator, US Senator.

Yale Law, FLOTAR, FLOTUS, US Senator.
How does being FLOTUS give her experience?

Gov. Richardson: Congressman, UN Ambassador, Secretary of Energy, Governor.

If you're voting for experience Bill Richardson is your man.

Hillary seems as if she's entitled to the presidency. If she's elected, for 32-36 years the Bushes (starting with 8 years of VP Bush) and Clintons will have controlled the White House.

End this Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton Dynasty Now. Before Jeb starts getting any ideas.

Posted by: FLOTUS not POTUS | November 14, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Obama's been completely consistent on this issue. What do you want? For us to not have ANY troops in Iraq? For us not to fight Al-Qaeda? For us to put flowers in terrorists guns?

From the beginning he said that we should be fighting Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That's what he's going to do. We won't just be Iraq's personal police force - we'll be in there fighting terrorism like we should have been doing from the beginning.

Posted by: Steve | November 14, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

we should accept the truth. every one knows their is no good option avilable on Iraq.

Posted by: imran haider | November 14, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Article is but yet another pandering or catering to the politically correct. That's Barack Obama.

The guy's never held a job. He's been in government for his entire adulthood. Meaning: he's been a taker who produces nothing.

What's embarrassing for "we Democrats" is the total lack of abilities amongst all our presidential candidates. Kucinich, Biden, Richardson, Dodd and Obama are totally worthless bureaucrats. Edwards at least has held a job albeit his reputation is one of being totally untrustworthy. Sounds like someone in government, doesn't it?

While Senator Hillary Clinton's experience is limited, it's not totally lacking. True it was in the Rose Law Firm which existed on doing boilerplate legal work for Arkansas bond issues while her husband was Governor. But that's shades better than miscreants like Richardson, Biden, Kucinich, Dodd or Obama.

It's as if Al Gore Jr was running again. Total incompetence across the board. Couple incompetent with dishonesty and you've correctly labeled each of my party's candidates.

Posted by: individual | November 14, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

This is getting, well put it this way, i could vomit everytime that i read this column. I beginning to think that the WP is the only people that doesnt realize how pro-Barack Hussein Obama this column is. Now i know that from the beginning of Barack Hussein Obama's campaign that he was going to be WP poster boy but i didnt think it would get this bad.

Isnt it about time that the WP gets serious about the well qualified candidates and stop trying to sell a candidate to the American Voter that has no serious credible experience or leadership. As it has so often said...Barack Hussein Obama has never even been a night manager of a hotdog stand.

Posted by: yojoe | November 14, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Obama's plan is detailed, but nonetheless a bad plan.

The folks that comprise a "strike force" are indeed "combat troops." Once they strike, they will be involved in combat. Next case.

If Obama moves troops out of the country to provide support, he's raising the cost of the war and lowering its effective capability. You can't just bring a base with you when one of your allies calls. And he's also not "bringing the troops home" as Bush has been roundly implored to do. He'll continue the strain that the war has placed on military families.

If he simply moves troops to a different part of Iraq (Kurdistan?) that presents many of the cost problems above and also continues the strain on military families while not fitting the term "withdrawal" that is cherished by the Dem primary voter.

One pinocchio seems awfully light. Two or three would be more fitting.

"There are no good options in Iraq." That's actually a fine quote from Obama, one of few that is consistent with his adorers who call him the general article, etc. Problem is, that means he thinks the criticism of Bush should be lowered to a dull roar about his prosecution of the war. Bush has no good options either. It's fair enough to complain that Bush started the war to begin with, but nobody's limiting themselves to that topic.

Posted by: The Angry One | November 14, 2007 4:21 PM | Report abuse

There are some buffons here who does not have the "balls" to go and fight the war. I criticize the failure but people who sit here and talk know nothing of what haooens to troops. Stop acting hypocritical when you say " we admire what the troops do". My brother in law was deplyed in Iraq and we had to buy the GPS stuff from here to send it to him becos they did not have the supplies needed for protection. All these idiotic "DAILY KOS: HRC cronjies" who has never worn the uniform can talk while sitting in their offices but remember that the troops are the ones paying the price with life for the decision of the C-in-C.

Barack was absolutely right in saying "protect the troops". He opposed the policy but he is truly patriotic in saying that "support the troops" and thast why HE FUNDS. Are you people, esp DEMOCRATS (I am one too in principle)STUPID. If you want something done get 60 votes. U bet HRC can get things done.. IN your dreams..perhaps..

GO BARACK.. Usher in a new year of ethical politics.

Only "women with issues" and "spineless men" can go with HRC.

Posted by: Paul | November 14, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I think the one Pinocchio is one too many, FactChecker.

"Individual" -- you need to do some fact checking of your own. Share your new accurate results with "Tre."

Sen. Obama -- as is frequently documented -- was not only a community organizer and activist, he was a law professor and civil rights attorney. Those were paying jobs in the private and non-profit sectors. And Tre, intelligent people consider all of the above, along with being elected to, and serving in both state and federal government "accomplishments."

Of course, if either of you knuckledraggers could read without moving your lips you would know those facts by now. *Sigh*

"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is." -- Vice President Dan Quayle

The rest of us know "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Isn't that so, Tre and Indie?

Posted by: jade7243 | November 15, 2007 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Everyone says Obama means Special Forces guys when he says a "strike force." But unless he actually says that, he's not ruling out larger combat units. For significant assaults, you'd actually need conventional forces. For the Battle of Fallujah, we needed 3,000 guys plus support troops.

Posted by: LtNOWIS | November 15, 2007 5:55 AM | Report abuse

I have yet to hear a lie come from Barack Obama's lips. The man is the only chance we have to get it right and make the changes we need in order to give the government back to the people.Please everyone log onto and read the specifics of his proposals in every area - health care, foreign policy, education etc. - he lays out very concise things he will propose - he doesn't skirt around the issues at all. When you are talking at rallies you don't go into details because they are pretty boring - you want to fire people up - he does that. However, when he is elected President (oh please God let it happen for the sake of the U.S.!) the specifics will be there just like they are there in detail on his website. Don't just speak empty words people - read up on all the candidates and you will see his plans include the most detailed specifics of ANY of the candidates - Dems or Reps - take the time - the world is in a mess - you owe it to yourself to make INFORMED decision this time around.

Posted by: Jayne Chapman - Boca Raton, Florida | November 15, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

First of all, the Iraq War is not a "disaster" at all. Our initial goal of defeating Iraq's military and toppling Saddam Hussein went very well. Then, later, when Al Qaeda decided to show up and fight against the efforts of the Iraqi people to set up a secular democracy (instead of the Islamic Theocracy that they wanted) things got ugly. But it is no way a "disaster". We've lost 800 soldiers per year, which is less than any other major war in history. In Vietnam we lost 6,000 soldiers a year for 10 years. In WW2 we lost 100,000 soldiers a year for 5 years. The US and coalition have made tremendous progress in transforming Iraq and fighting back the forces of chaos and extreme theocracy. Now, if you want disaster, look at the battle of Borodino where 70,000 Russians and French died in a couple of days in 1812. In 216BC, the Romans lost 50,000 men in one day at the battle of Cannae. Look at Gallipoli, Isandlwana, Stalingrad. Those were disasters. Don't let the Democrats hammer this "This war is a disaster" argument home in order to win elections (it's already worked once.)

Posted by: Iraq is no disaster | November 15, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I think that Obama has the right idea, removing regular troops and putting in counter-terrorism/special forces is a good idea. He should have the troops well hidden and making almost no appearance and almost completely severed from the Iraqi population and have several citizen that will stay anonymous and loyal and have them report everything for a "fee" and have them bring food and things and have the strike force pop-up from nowhere and get rid of the threat. Sending troops with civilians is just like parading around and saying "look at me! I rule over you! I dare you to sqeeze off a few rounds at me!" to the Iraqis so I don't think that there should be visible troops at all, not even civilians. The special ops should stay hidden as long as possible and use a guerilla tactic. We should sit and see what happens and if things are okay, let it be okay and if it's not then have the strike force attack swiftly and silently and retreat.

Posted by: somemongolianguy | November 15, 2007 11:58 PM | Report abuse

This article is interesting to me because there is finally somebody thats trying to do something about this war in Iraq. I think Obama's attentions are good and he is going to lead this country to better. I dont thimk that his ideas are bad at all.

Posted by: Rahel Barihe | November 16, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

while talking about consistency in his positioning how about mentioning the fact that though he "opposed the war" while not in the senate, but voted repeatedly to continue funding the war after he entered the senate and showed absolutely no leadership in introducing any legislation that moved towards bringing this war to an end.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 19, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

If Barack Obama wins the Democratic Nomination The Republicans will have him for lunch.They know they cant beat Hillary so there pushing for Obama to win and then they can get there Election troops to elect a Republican. Remember George W's Election.I heard that Barack middle name is Hussein,can anyone confirm this?

Posted by: Sailor Bob | November 20, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I would not trust Obama with anything I certanly would leave the demacratic party if he were to become their nominee. If the demacratic party would vote for someone who snorted cocaine while studying law in college their no better then the people who voted for bush who was an alcholic.

Posted by: wiliam | December 13, 2007 2:23 AM | Report abuse

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