Barack Obama's starting off this week with a bang -- specifically, an Op-Ed in Monday's New York Times that discusses what his strategy for Iraq would be if he's elected president. On Tuesday, he'll follow that up with what his campaign is billing as a "major policy address on Iraq and national security."
In the piece, titled "My Plan for Iraq," Obama says Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's call for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops "presents an enormous opportunity." "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," Obama says.
Obama also takes care to draw the distinctions between his position on Iraq and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's, emphasizing his early opposition to the war, saying he would seek no permanent bases for the U.S. in the country and, of course, tying McCain to President Bush.
He says one reason he believes the war must be ended is the effect it's having on our ability to fight terror elsewhere, and to hold the gains made in Afghanistan.
Then there's a concise description of his actual plan, which is unlikely to satisfy those who want an immediate and total withdrawal, but is also unlikely to provide much ammo to the Republicans, who'll undoubtedly paint him as wanting immediate and total withdrawal anyway. "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in," Obama says, continuing:
We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 -- two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. 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. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.
In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq's stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.