Barack Obama: U.S. presidential election, 2008/On the war in Iraq

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Barack Obama, U.S. Senator (D-Ill.)
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Barack Obama (D-Ill.) came out in opposition to the Iraq War at least as early as October 2, 2002, when he gave a speech against the war at an anti-war rally in Chicago.[1][2]

He gave the speech nine days before the the Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq (H.J.114), commonly known as the AUMF, which was passed October 11, 2002.[3][4]

Obama was not a U.S. senator at the time, and thus did not, as the Agence France Presse argued, "face therefore the high-stakes choice which confronted Clinton, fellow candidates Senator Joseph Biden, Chris Dodd and former senator John Edwards, who ... all voted in October 2002 to give Bush power to wage war in Iraq."[2]

Obama is quoted from the day before the 2004 Democratic National Committee convention as saying:[5]

"On Iraq, on paper, there's not as much difference, I think, between the Bush administration and a Kerry administration as there would have been a year ago. There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute."

Obama: "lives of the bravest young Americans wasted" in Iraq

In a March 31, 2007, interview by CNN's Wolf Blitzer with 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who was in Iraq, McCain said "Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home." During an April 1, 2007, telephone interview with Sen. Obama, Blitzer asked Obama "What if he's right? What if he's right, and what you're proposing and a lot of Democrats are proposing results in genocide in Iraq?", to which Obama responded

"Well, look, what you have right now is chaos in Iraq. After having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, after seeing close to 3,200 lives lost, what you now see is chaos. And there's no end in sight."

While speaking at a campaign rally at Iowa State University on February 11, 2007, Sen. Obama "said the Iraq war 'should never have been waged,' adding, 'We now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted'," Celeste Katz reported in the New York Daily News.

On February 12, 2007, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama told reporters at Nashua, "What I would say — and meant to say — is that their service hasn't been honored, ... because our civilian strategy has not honored their courage and bravery and we have put them in a situation in which it is hard for them to succeed." [1]

Obama "hastened to say ... that he did not mean to disparage the troops' sacrifice," Katz wrote. "It is not at all what I intended to say, and I would absolutely apologize if any [military families] felt that in some ways it had diminished the enormous courage and sacrifice that they'd shown."

Support / Opposition to the War in Iraq

2002: prescient, perhaps, but not a "courageous leader"

On October 2, 2007, at DePaul University in Chicago, Obama is to give his "defining Iraq speech", Mike Allen reported in The Politico.[6] In a pre-speech analysis, the Associated Press's Ron Fornier wrote:

"Nobody can dispute that Barack Obama opposed the Iraq war from the start and, with striking prescience, predicted U.S. troops would be mired in a costly conflict that fanned 'the flames of the Middle East.' But nobody should accept at face value the Illinois senator's claim that he was a 'courageous leader' who opposed the war at great political risk. The truth is that while Obama showed foreign policy savvy and an ability to keenly analyze both sides of an issue in his October 2002 warnings on Iraq, the political upside of his position rivaled any risk. And, once elected to the U.S. Senate two years later, Obama waited months to show national leadership on Iraq. Even now, as he hopes to ride his anti-war credentials to the White House, Obama's views on how to end the conflict differ little from those of Democratic rivals who voted in the fall of 2002 to give President Bush authority to wage war."[6]

2004: Campaign for U.S. Senate

William Finnegan wrote May 31, 2004, in The New Yorker:[7]

"The left in Illinois, as it happens, is monitoring Obama for similar trimming toward the political center. When his speech at the antiwar rally in 2002 was quietly removed from his campaign Web site, activists found that to be an ominous sign. It is traditional, of course, for politicians to tack to the center after winning a primary, hoping to attract swing voters. Earlier this month, when major newspapers (including the Times) and leading Democrats (including Illinois’s other senator, Dick Durbin) began calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a result of the Abu Ghraib prison-torture revelations, Obama criticized the Administration's Iraq policy, but added, 'I have no doubt about Donald Rumsfeld’s sincerity.' Deciding Rumsfeld's fate, he said, should be left to President Bush."

Attacks Hillary Clinton for Iraq vote

"Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) tried [October 2, 2007,] to gain the high ground on Iraq over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), his chief rival for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, by charging that the nation’s leaders 'got it wrong' by going to war," Mike Allen wrote October 2, 2007, in The Politico.[8]

Although Obama "did not name Clinton in his remarks about Iraq, but his allusion was clear," Allen wrote.

Fact check: Obama v Clinton voting records

  • 2002: Clinton "voted for the October 2002 resolution authorizing the Iraq war, while Obama (Ill.), then a state senator, publicly opposed the war." [2]
  • 2004: In July 2004, Obama told New York Times that "he was not sure whether he would have voted against the resolution had he been in the Senate." [3][4]
  • Since 2005: Obama's "voting record has been virtually identical to Clinton's. 'Senator Obama voted $301 billion in funding. So did Senator Clinton, ... Senator Obama voted against a definite withdrawal date. So did Senator Clinton.'" [5] See Obama's June 21, 2006, Floor Statement on Iraq Debate.
  • 2006: In October 2006, Obama told the New Yorker's David Remnick that "senators who saw intelligence reports on Iraq may have been justified in voting for the invasion. 'I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence,' he said. 'And, for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices.'" [6]

Fact check: funding/ending funding for war in Iraq

Regarding Congressional actions to end the Iraq War in the 110th Congress, on April 1, 2007, Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press that "Congress will provide the money for the Iraq War without a withdrawal timeline the White House objects to if President Bush vetoes the measure."

Obama said Congress "will ratchet up pressure on Bush to change course. But, the Illinois senator says he doesn't think the Senate will end war funding."

"Obama's opposition to the Iraq war in 2003 is unquestioned," Ben Smith wrote April 4, 2007, in The Politico. "But what was a sharp anti-war line on the campaign trail in 2004 – when he said he favored voting against funding the war – turned into a more pragmatic Senate performance, where Obama has taken a less aggressively anti-war tack than fellow Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and others.

"As a review of their votes by the website TPMCafe showed last week, Clinton and Obama have almost identical voting records on Iraq in the Senate; they cast different votes just once, when Obama voted to confirm Gen. George Casey as the Army chief of staff and Clinton voted against his confirmation.

"Obama's choice of pragmatism over confrontation has long frustrated some anti-war figures, and their sentiment boiled over after Obama's comments to an Associated Press reporter in Iowa last weekend," Smith wrote.

Fact check: voting record

"On substantive questions of foreign policy, one of Barack Obama's most effective -- and perhaps only -- methods of distinguishing himself from Hillary Clinton has been touting his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Though Obama's opposition was expressed in a twenty minute speech on the floor of the Illinois state legislature, the credibility his anti-war stand has granted him is well-deserved, and it should remain a central issue in the primaries," Max Blumenthal wrote April 2, 2007, in The Nation.

"Given the way Obama has voted on Iraq-related bills since his arrival to Congress, however, any attempt by the junior senator to cast himself as a genuine anti-war candidate is disingenous. Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld have compiled a side-by-side study of Obama and Hillary's votes on Iraq-related bills and what they found is startling.

"Of 69 votes related to Iraq, Obama differed with Hillary on only one: He voted for the confirmation of Gen. George Casey and she voted against it. In no way does Sargent and Kleefeld's study negate the importance of Obama's oppositon to invading Iraq, but it does add some nuance to an otherwise simplistic debate," Blumenthal wrote.

On May 4, 2006, Obama voted YES for HR 4939, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2006, which included $67.55 billion for U.S. Department of Defense operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • $31.6 billion for operations and maintenance
  • $15.46 billion for procurement of aircraft, missiles, weapons, combat vehicles, and ammunition
  • $10.2 billion for military personnel
  • $3.7 billion for the Iraq Security Forces Fund
  • $1.96 billion for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Fund
  • $1.91 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund

Fact check: setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq

Speaking January 14, 2007, on CBS's Face the Nation, Obama, "reluctant to commit himself to any vote blocking spending for the war, [joined] Democratic leaders in calling for the start of a phased withdrawal starting over the next four to six month[s] and [called] Bush's new plan 'stay-the-course-plus', Mark Silva wrote in The Swamp, the Chicago Tribune newsblog.

Obama said "If there are ways that we can constrain and condition what the president is doing, so that four to six months from now we are considering a phased withdrawal… that is the area that I am most interested in supporting," Silva wrote. [7]

On January 17, 2007, following her weekend trip to Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) "called President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq 'a losing strategy' and proposed placing new limits on the White House’s conduct of the war," Patrick Healy wrote in the New York Times. "Hours after Mrs. Clinton’s announcement, Mr. Obama said that he, too, would support a cap on troop levels."

On January 30, 2007, "Obama introduced the 'Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007', which calls for a goal of all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by March 31, 2008, in a phased redeployment worked out with military commanders," Lynn Sweet reported January 31, 2007, in the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to the Wikipedia, "Obama sponsored 152 bills and resolutions brought before the 109th Congress in 2005 and 2006, and cosponsored another 427." None of these were related to ending the war in Iraq.
Additionally, "once Obama got to Washington [in 2005], he made only one Senate speech on Iraq." [8]

"Earlier, he refused to vote for an amendment [introduced June 21, 2006] by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) that would have, as Obama said, bring the troops home on a 'date certain'" Sweet wrote.

"Yes, the Obama plan seems to be rather reminiscent of the Kerry-Feingold Amendment defeated last summer," Dave Schuler wrote January 31, 2007, in Outside the Beltway. "It adds a troop freeze, changes the dates, and adds provisions for benchmarks and withholding of economic support. Obama doesn’t appear to have been a co-sponsor of Kerry-Feingold."

"On June 21, [2006] [9] Obama took to the Senate floor to say, 'A hard and fast, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal offers our commanders in the field and our diplomats in the region insufficient flexibility.'

"Obama started moving toward setting a timetable in the weeks leading up to his announcement of his 2008 Democratic presidential exploratory campaign," Sweet wrote January 31, 2007.

On November 20, 2006, Obama said [10] that "a 'precise' timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq should be mapped out by the president, military commanders and, when possible, with Iraqi government leaders," Sweet wrote. "However, at that November 22, 2005, speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Obama said he was not suggesting an 'overly rigid' timetable.

"The gradual switch in approach seems to be tied to the reality of the Democratic presidential primary," Sweet wrote.

Related external articles

Obama vs. McCain

Criticism from and for Australian Prime Minister John Howard

On February 11, 2007, the day after Obama announced his candidacy in Illinois, Australian Prime Minister John Howard criticized Obama's plan for Iraq, saying that, if he were a terrorist, he "would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats," the New York Times reported.

Obama responded to this criticism by suggesting that, if Howard was so adamant about his support for the Iraq troop increase, then he should "call up another 20,000 Australians and send them to Iraq," a reference to Australia's comparitively small troop committment (1,000 troops at the time) and President Bush's proposed troop surge in Iraq. He further suggested that Howard's support of the current policy and criticism of his proposal was otherwise a "bunch of empty rhetoric," the Times wrote.


Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Barack Obama's Iraq Speech, WikiSource, accessed January 14, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Obama hits back in Pakistan row," Agence France Presse (The Raw Story), August 7, 2007.
  3. Roll Call Vote: H.J.114, Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, U.S. Senate, October 11, 2002.
  4. S.J.Res.46, Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), with 16 cosponsors (including Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)), introduced October 2, 2002.
  5. Eric Ruder, "Meet Barack Obama. The Democrats' New Liberal Star," CounterPunch, August 3, 2004.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mike Allen, "'Window of opportunity'," Playbook/The Politico, October 2, 2007.
  7. William Finnegan, "The Candidate," The New Yorker, May 31, 2004.
  8. Mike Allen, "Obama attacks Clinton for Iraq vote," The Politico, October 2, 2007.

External articles: Obama on the war in Iraq




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