Senator Barack Obama spoke at length to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations today. The full text of his speech is available here. Key excerpts from the Tribune report by Jeff Zeleny follow:
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) rejected Tuesday the call for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, declaring: "I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq."
"During the course of the next year, we need to focus our attention on how to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq," Obama said in Chicago. "Notice that I say 'reduce,' and not 'fully withdraw.'"
"The Administration has narrowed an entire debate about war into two camps: 'cut-and-run' or 'stay the course'," Obama said. "If you offer any criticism or even mention that we should take a second look at our strategy and change our approach, you're branded 'cut-and-run.' If you're ready to blindly trust the Administration no matter what they do, you're willing to stay the course."
"We don't necessarily need a timetable, in the sense of a precise date for U.S. troop pull-outs, but a time-frame for such a phased withdrawal," Obama said. "We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from now and the United States armed forces cannot stand-up and support an Iraqi government in perpetuity."
After the parliamentary elections in Iraq, which are scheduled for Dec. 15, Obama said the United States should begin devising a strategy for the gradual withdrawal of the more than 160,000 troops in Iraq. He offered general recommendations, but conceded there were no "magic bullets for a good outcome in Iraq."
Still, the Democratic senator chastised the administration for failing to encourage debate or give an honest assessment of the war in Iraq.
"The president could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people: 'Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are things that I would have done differently. But now that I'm here, I'm going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out,' " Obama said. "Imagine if he did that, how it would transform the politics of our country."