Obama's Iraq Speech

On the heels of what Obama's team called today in a conference call the "pageantry of hearings," Barack Obama came out with a "major national security" address. It was given in Clinton, Iowa. Insert irony here.

A couple of things stood out, which were described as "classic Senator Obama." I covered quite a bit on my show today. But his focus on the humanitarian aspect of the blowback of the war is one issue that clearly caught my attention. Is anyone else talking about this aspect?

Take Care of Refugees: Barack Obama would establish an international working group dedicated to addressing the Iraqi refugee crisis. He would increase American investments in Iraq's refugees and internally displaced people and to neighboring countries that house them to at least $2 billion. He would work with Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt to dramatically increase access to social services for refugees. He also would work to create safe-havens for Iraqis who remain in Iraq, but are displaced from the homes by violence.

Secure International Assistance: To improve conditions in Iraq, Barack Obama would secure greater regional contributions to humanitarian relief, refugee care and integration, and economic assistance. ... ..

Fulfill American's Obligations to Accept Refugees: The State Department pledged to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees into America, but has only let 190 into the United States. Obama would expedite the Department of Homeland Security's review of Iraqi asylum applicants. Obama also would appeal to the Coalition's original partners to expand their refugee quotas. ... ..

Obama also spoke out strongly on Iran today. His friend Joe won't like it.

Iran poses a grave challenge. It builds a nuclear program, supports terrorism, and threatens Israel with destruction. But we hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way that the President and Vice President talk about Iran. They conflate Iran and al Qaeda, ignoring the violent schism that exists between Shiite and Sunni militants. They issue veiled threats. They suggest that the time for diplomacy and pressure is running out when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy. Well George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear - loud and clear - from the American people and the Congress: you don't have our support, and you don't have our authorization for another war.

Obama's suggestion of a new Constitutional convention, which "should not adjourn until a new accord on national reconciliation is reached" is rife with problems and the inherent overreach that the nationalistic Iraqis will hate. It's silly, frankly. What are we going to do lock the door?

Ezra Klein questioned the Obama team about residual forces. The answer was interesting and included language that always amuses me. Talking about how any responsible commander in chief would say the same thing and that, "You can't possibly answer those questions until speaking to the generals." Being a believer in residual forces the answer was logical and realistic in nature. Maybe if the response hadn't been couched in what sounded decidedly like an admonition it wouldn't have hit me as posturing Obama's grown-up-ness. That aside, no candidate can be expected to commit to residual force numbers this far out. It's absurd to think otherwise, though I understand the push to get them to try. We have no idea what we'll face in January '09, and that's not offering cover for our candidates. It's acknowledging Bush's ineptitude as commander in chief, which will continue to unravel in Iraq.

As for what Congress can do right now on Iraq, there was no answer from Obama's team. Silence often screams. We will soon see what plays out.

David Corn asked the differences in Obama and his opponents, like the senator from New York. It was an opportunity, which the team on the call decided to broaden into "without naming names," then said... nothing of note. Evidently breaking down differences is seen as being divisive. I thought it was campaigning.

The question I asked seemed obvious, especially since Obama didn't detail the reasons for it in his speech. But I was after something more. Obama's legislation reads like this: The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's expectations. In the speech he says: I introduced a plan in January to remove all of our combat brigades by next March. It continues:

We should enter into talks with the Iraqi government to discuss the process of our drawdown. We must get out strategically and carefully, removing troops from secure areas first, and keeping troops in more volatile areas until later. But our drawdown should proceed at a steady pace of one or two brigades each month. If we start now, all of our combat brigades should be out of Iraq by the end of next year.

The obvious explanation not lost on me is that since no redeployment has begun it will take longer to get it done. I understand that, but the difference is quite a few more months. I'm trying to discern the rationale for the extra time, because it's important. "I hope he doesn't get accused of shifting benchmarks," was the comment to me after a follow up.

Actually, I'm hoping that Barack Obama is talking to military people who like (former admiral) Representative Joe Sestak believe it will take quite a bit longer than people are talking about to redeploy, and Obama is listening. Getting troops, equipment, plus keeping things stable on our side until we get out, isn't going to be easy. We're looking at 15-18 months, as far as I can tell. The push on redeployment dates by Obama, beyond the obvious, seems to signal something important. A signal that foreign policy realism has found a home, which is likely a further sign that Obama is listening Zbigniew Brzezinski.