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IN THEIR OWN WORDS: McCain and Obama on Iraq


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a special series of stories focusing on the election that Baptist Press will run between now and Nov. 4. Stories will run on Wednesdays and Fridays.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–This is the second in a series of stories focusing on one specific national issue and detailing where the two major presidential candidates stand. Called “In Their Own Words,” the stories avoid commentary and instead present the candidates’ views as they have stated them in the past — either in interviews, speeches, debates or on their campaign websites.

Last week, Baptist Press spotlighted the issue of abortion. Today, BP takes a look at the candidates’ positions on Iraq. Other topics in the two-month-long series include the definition of marriage and gay rights, Supreme Court nominees, Darfur, the energy crisis, the environment, immigration and taxes.

JOHN MCCAIN

— What McCain says about the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “The war, the invasion was not a mistake. The handling of the war was a terrible mistake” (Interview, “Meet the Press,” NBC, Jan. 6, 2008).

— What McCain says about the 2007 troop surge in Iraq: “I supported it when it wasn’t popular. I was even called by Republicans for being disloyal because I fought against the failed strategy of nearly four years. And as you also well recall, there were times when my campaign was declared dead and buried. But I did what I thought was right for the — [what] I knew was right for the country because of my background and experience and knowledge and judgment. … No rational person could look at the situation in Iraq on the ground and that’s been there two years ago and say that the surge hasn’t succeeded” (Interview, “Hannity & Colmes,” Fox News, July 23, 2008). “Thanks to the success of the surge, Iraq’s political order is evolving in positive and hopeful ways. Four out of the six laws cited as benchmarks by the U.S. have been passed by the Iraqi legislature. A law on amnesty and a law rolling back some of the harsher restrictions against former employees of the Iraqi government have made it possible for Iraqis to move toward genuine reconciliation” (JohnMcCain.com).

— What McCain says about how and when the U.S. should pull out of Iraq: “I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there. Our goal is an Iraq that can stand on its own as a democratic ally and a responsible force for peace in its neighborhood. Our goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops. And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine. But I do not believe that anyone should make promises as a candidate for President that they cannot keep if elected. To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership. I know the pain war causes. I understand the frustration caused by our mistakes in this war. And I regret sincerely the additional sacrifices imposed on the brave Americans who defend us. But I also know the toll a lost war takes on an army and on our country’s security” (JohnMcCain.com).

— What McCain says about Barack Obama’s position on Iraq: “I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. ‘I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,’ he said on January 10, 2007. ‘In fact, I think it will do the reverse.’ Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted. Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, ‘Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.’ … I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war — only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president” (Editorial, NYGOP.com).

BARACK OBAMA

— What Obama says about the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown. (Op-ed, The New York Times, July 14, 2008).

— What Obama says about the 2007 troop surge in Iraq: “I think that there’s no doubt that the violence is down. I believe that that is a testimony to the troops that were sent and General [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker. I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated … including President Bush and the other supporters. It has gone very well, partly because of the Anbar situation and the Sunni awakening, partly because of the Shia military.” (Interview on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News, Sept. 4, 2008).

— What Obama says about how and when the U.S. should pull out of Iraq (taken from his website): “Barack Obama believes we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — more than 7 years after the war began. Under the Obama plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. He will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism” (BarackObama.com).

— What Obama says about John McCain’s position on Iraq: “The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president…. In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. 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. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender” (Op-ed, The New York Times, July 14, 2008).
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Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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