Obama's Principles On Iraq

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As Sen. Barack Obama prepares for his CODEL to Iraq and Afghanistan, his campaign sought to bring some order to his and his advisers' public statements on Iraq. For Democrats, nothing clears the throat like an op-ed in the New York Times. Rhetorically, Obama recognizes the security gains of the surge, attributes them to the courage of U.S. troops, and balances them against the cost. He doesn't always get to do this in soundbites, but he does it here.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

Obama suggests that his "residual" force would not serve as police officers in unstable neighborhoods; they would not patrol or otherwise find themselves consrcipted as first responders.

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

He draws another contrast with McCain:

Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face

And then links the challenge of Iraq with the much broader challenge of terrorism, once again promising to redeploy troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban.

There's still some wiggle room here. Obama writes that he'd ask commanders for advice about where to withdraw troops first and "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."

In practice, this would mean that combat troops would remain in volatile areas much longer than those who now patrol stable areas. Left unanswered is what would happen if the ground commanders urged Obama to keep troops in volatile areas for longer than a year -- or what would happen if Obama began to withdraw troops at one to two brigades per month, and his commanders asked him to keep a brigade in place for an extra two or three months -- or what would happen if violence erupted in places the U.S. recently evacuated -- or whether Obama's residual force would be supplemented with brigades transferred from other parts of the country.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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