Monday, November 20, 2006

Obama's Iraq Exit Strategy and Iran

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, we understand there is Iranian and Syrian support for Iraqis or certain insurgents now. What if they start making that [support] stronger?

Senator Barack Obama: This is not a secret.

Jeff Berkowitz: Could they increase that?
Senator Barack Obama [D-IL] spoke to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs [previously the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations] at a luncheon program today. Obama, for his first two years as a U. S. Senator, has sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Barack Obama, 45, a likely candidate for President in 2008, spoke to a sell out crowd of 1400, calling for a "phased redeployment" or “phased withdrawal,” of troops from Iraq within the next four to six months.
[See here for an article about today’s talk, which spanned almost an hour, including audience Q and A, after the speech. The press conference, after the program, ran about ten minutes. See here for a full transcript of Senator Obama’s speech that preceded the audience Q and A].

Senator Obama, who was a State Senator from the south side of Chicago for eight years prior to his election to the U. S. Senate in 2004 and was the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, was a forceful and vocal opponent of the Iraq War six months before the U. S. took military action to enter Iraq in March, 2003.

A month before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was at the U. N., making the Bush Administration argument for taking military action, in part based on the dangers of WMD, Barack Obama was arguing, at an anti-war protest rally at the Federal Plaza in the Chicago Loop, against the U. S. taking military action in Iraq.

As was noted by some of the thirty, or so, journalists in attendance, not much new ground was broken today, either compared to what Senator Obama has said previously or compared to what most of the Democratic leaders are saying now about beginning a phased re-deployment or withdrawal of troops by April, 2007. However, it was said better and more coherently than it has been said by most of the other Democratic Leaders.

Further, what is new, relative to Pre-Election Day, is that Senator Obama’s line of advocacy is definitely now the majority leadership view in the House and Senate [or at least it will be in January, 2007] and perhaps the only view you will here from the likely Democratic Primary Candidates for President, e.g., Senators Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Feingold, Biden and Bayh and perhaps former VP Gore. Further, in response to a question from the press, Obama emphasized his intent was not to state something new, novel or to score political points, but “to present what I think is right.” Obama said at the presser, “there are a restricted number of options, there is no magic bullet in Iraq.” Also, by next spring, if not before, there may be some influential Republicans towing the current Democratic Leadership line.

Also, you can almost certainly include Senator Obama in that list of extremely likely Democratic Primary Presidential Candidates. Senator Obama said today he would announce a decision on that matter in the next few months, but those close to him have implied that decision will more likely come by the middle of December, which perhaps not coincidentally is the scheduled time for the lame duck session of the U. S. Senate to adjourn.

To provide some perspective on the well known draw and appeal of the Junior Senator from Illinois, today’s program attendance was originally closed at 1000, and then opened again due to popular demand, and closed about a week ago, with 1400 signing up for a downtown Chicago lunch that cost $60 for CCGA members and $100 for CCGA non-members. Not a bad day for the not for profit CCGA. When Madeline Albright spoke before the CCGA not too long ago, it was a bit less elaborate event- a book signing—and drew about 500.

On the other hand, on the day before the election, Senator Obama spoke at a 10:00 am morning rally for 10th Cong. Dist. Democratic Challenger Dan Seals at the Waukegan airport, in a room that would have held a thousand, and attracted only about one hundred thirty of the Party Faithful [and one Cong. Mark Kirk [R- Highland] supporter [who was escorted out, with his Kirk sign]. Further, there was neither a meal served, nor a charge for attending the Seals-Obama event- other than the implicit charge for the value of one’s time. And, the Obama magic worked neither in the 10th CD [Seals lost to six year Republican incumbent Kirk 53-47] nor in the 6th CD [Democrat Duckworth lost to state senator Peter Roskam in a Republican open Seat, 51-49, notwithstanding Obama’s attendance at an afternoon rally on that pre-election day, filling up about half of the 500 seats].

The CCGA talk was extremely well received, with Obama being greeted with a partial standing ovation—but the CCGA leans left and Democratic, and the questions from the audience were not what you would call hostile or even challenging. Of course, the Senator gave his usual thoughtful, articulate and impressive talk and answers, but make no mistake about it, this was a love fest-- not so different from a Democratic Party rally.

A brief exchange on Iran and Iraq between Berkowitz and Senator Obama at the presser is included, below.
Jeff Berkowitz: Senator, what if Iran abuses the situation. How would you adjust to that if they interpret this as a “cut and run,” not as a phased redeployment?

Senator Barack Obama: Well, they can interpret it any way that want, as long as we’ve got some presence on the ground [in Iraq].

Jeff Berkowitz: But, what if they abuse it and they take advantage—

Senator Barack Obama: Well, Jeff, you’ve got to be more specific when you tell me, “What if they abuse it.” What do you mean, specifically?

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, we understand there is Iranian and Syrian support for Iraqis or certain insurgents now. What if they start making that [support] stronger?

Senator Barack Obama: This is not a secret.

Jeff Berkowitz: Could they increase that?

Senator Barack Obama: I think it would be hard at this point for Iran to increase its influence over the Shia population in Iraq right now. I think every intelligence officer that I have spoken to would tell you that Iran is a major power broker in Iraq as a consequence of our invasion. They have direct lines to the Shia militias. They are helping to foster the environment that we are seeing right now. I think the thing that could change the dynamic if they start realizing that if this thing collapses, they are going to have heck to pay on their own border. And, that is something right now that they don’t feel obliged to take into account because they know the U. S. troops are going to be there to, at least, hold things together.
Senator Barack Obama, answering questions today at a press conference held after his lunch speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The program was at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue in the Loop.
For a precursor of a potential McCain-Obama Presidential match-up, [Watch the July 22 Public Affairs show].
That show includes a virtual McCain-Obama debate. You can also watch an April 17 Sen. Obama- 8th CD Cong. Melissa Bean joint presser by going to that same podcast page. Cong. Bean is a Democratic incumbent for whom Senator Obama helped attract about 600 troops to a College of Lake County Bean rally the day before the election—and Bean won a second term, 50-44 over Republican challenger McSweeney, with third party ant- War and anti-CAFTA candidate Bill Scheurer winning six per cent and a place on the 8th CD 2008 ballot, along with the other major party candidates.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at