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Obama Addresses Iraq, McCain Hits Back

In advance of what is being billed as a "major" address on Iraq by Barack Obama tomorrow, his campaign is working overtime to reposition the Illinois senator on the future of American involvement in the country.

Obama started the discussion with a New York Times op-ed this morning in which he provided a preview of what he will say in tomorrow's speech.

Citing the call by Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki for a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from the country, Obama wrote:

"We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States."

In the piece, Obama reiterated his initial opposition to the war in Iraq and his belief that it "distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks."

And, despite recent questions about whether Obama was seeking to hedge his bets when it came to his campaign pledge to remove all combat brigades from Iraq in 16 months, the Illinois senator reiterated his plans to do just that. "After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces," wrote Obama. "That would not be a precipitous withdrawal."

Seeking to avoid being painted as a dove when it comes to involvement in international conflicts, Obama also used his op-ed to push for a renewed troop commitment in Afghanistan, a proposal that would include, among other things, two more combat brigades in that country.

Obama concluded the piece with what is as good a summary of his views on foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan as you will find. "Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven," he writes. "Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been."

Not surprisingly, Sen. John McCain's campaign reacted quickly to Obama's op-ed and the news of a major speech by Obama on the topic.

On a conference call this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) described Obama's op-ed as a "brazen attempt by a politician to rewrite history."

Graham insisted that not only had Obama opposed the surge, which has proven successful in quelling the violence, but he also was part of a Democratic effort to pull troops out of the region -- a strategy that complicated the task of the commanders on the ground.

"Not only did Senator Obama and his colleagues argue the wrong solution....they made it harder for the correct solution to be implemented," argued Graham. "He made the effort much harder on General [David] Petraeus and all those involved."

Graham added that Obama has "completely misunderstood" how Iraq fits into the war on terror by "advocating a strategy that would have resulted in a fractured, broken Iraq...that would have been a major loss in the broader war on terror."

Setting the parameters of the debate heading into Obama's Iraq speech tomorrow is a key component of how the speech will be received and judged by voters and the media.

Is Obama's speech a sign of strength? A symbol that, unlike past Democrats running for president, he will not run away from engaging the Republican nominee on national security and military policy?

Or is it an attempt to reframe his past position to bring it more in line with where the American people are when it comes to the future of the war in Iraq?

Watch the coverage leading up to Obama's speech and in the immediate aftermath of it for clues as to which story line is taking hold.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 14, 2008; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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