Larry King Live-Transcript
KING: Suzanne Malveaux, our CNN White House correspondent.
Let's go to Capitol Hill, the Russell Rotunda and Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, member of Foreign Relations Committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
What did you think?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: Well, let me say there was one area where I completely agree with the president. And that is that American troops have done everything that's been asked of them. They have done an outstanding job. And I don't doubt the president's sincerity in thinking that this third or fourth approach to the problem is the right one.
But I did not see anything in the speech or anything in the run- up to the speech that provides evidence that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 more U.S. troops is going to make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that's taking place there.
And I didn't see any political strategy in the president's remarks to get Shia and Sunni to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that I think will ultimately be necessary.
The last point I make, Larry: the one bit of leverage we have over the Iraqis at this stage are troop deployments. And there have to be some consequences for their failure to arrive at a political accommodation by actually escalating this war as opposed to initiating a phased withdrawal. I think the president is taking away whatever leverage we have.
KING: What would you have said tonight?
OBAMA: What I would have said tonight is this: that we all have a stake in making sure that we have an acceptable outcome in Iraq. And that means secure borders, a cessation of the violence and that Americans could -- should continue to work with Iraqis.
But we cannot impose a military solution on the problem. There has to be a political accommodation. I would begin a phased redeployment, take some U.S. troops, make sure that they're deployed in Afghanistan and other areas where we can fight the battle against terrorism and al Qaeda, and commit to the Iraqi government that if they arrive at the sort of political accommodations that are necessary, then we will be with them as partners. But this is not something in which we can simply impose a military solution.
KING: President Kennedy wants congressional consent for this troop increase. Do you support that? OBAMA: Well, my office is looking at a variety of options to place some conditions on the president's actions. And I had a lengthy meeting today with Secretary Rice. And the key point that I made is that after $400 billion, over 3,000 lives, after the enormous resolve of the American people and, most importantly, American troops have shown in this entire process, the burden of proof is now on the administration and the Iraqi government to show that they can now make progress.
And so what I would be looking for -- and I think that there are going to be a lot of proposals out there -- but what I'm going to be looking for is a way of setting forward some conditions that ensure that if benchmarks are not met, we are beginning the sort of phased withdrawal that I think is ultimately going to be most effective.
KING: Senator, Leslie Gelb, the famed former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says, "The worst challenge the next president will inherit will be figuring out how to lose in Iraq without the appearance of losing -- the effects of losing."
What do you think?
OBAMA: Well, look, I think when we start talking about failure and success, we throw those words around. And the reality is more complex. We know we are not going to have a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq. We have to have a more realistic and constrained view of what's possible.
What is possible, I think, is limiting the violence and allowing an Iraqi government to function, that has some set of secure borders. I think that's going to be a tough task. I don't think we advance that task -- in fact, I'm certain we don't advance it -- by putting more American troops at risk.
It is time for us to send a message to the Iraqis that they have to stand up. And we can be partners with them. We can mobilize the international community to support them. But for us to simply think that by adding 15,000 or 20,000 more troops, as opposed to beginning a phased withdrawal, that we're sending that message, I think we're making a very bad mistake. And I'm going to see what we can do here in Congress to ensure that the initial mistake of going into Iraq is not compounded by this further mistake.
KING: How much confidence do you have in the Maliki government?
OBAMA: From what I've seen, not as much as I would like.
Look, here's what we know. And it's indisputable that Maliki is in the office that he's in as a consequence of 30 votes from the Sadr militia. If it weren't for Sadr, he would not be there. It is hard to imagine that he is going to be a full-throated proponent of disarming a militia that helps prop him up into power.
And, you know, I should note that one of my colleagues, Republican Sam Brownback, who is in Iraq right now, sent out a press release today -- and this is not a fuzzy-headed liberal -- saying he did not believe that the Shia and the Sunni factions in Iraq were prepared at this point to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that would justify additional American sacrifice.
And if that's the message we're getting from the president's own party, I think that's an indication of where the American people are.
KING: And, senator, I know you're not going to announce anything tonight, but how close are you for making a decision for yourself on running?
OBAMA: You know, I think we'll have an announcement fairly soon. But I think what's important at this point is recognizing that the problem in Iraq is not a Democratic or Republican problem. And I know that's how oftentimes things are getting framed here in Washington.
This is an American problem. We have made an enormous commitment over the last three to four years. And it is time for us to acknowledge that the president's plan has been flawed from the outset. We all have a stake in jointly coming out with the best outcome. This can't be a political football. Whatever we do on both sides has to be sober and based on a realistic assessment of what's possible in Iraq. And that's the commitment that I'm going to be making as I work through this process here in Washington.
KING: And again, senator, we thank you.
And, again, you were saying fairly soon?
OBAMA: Fairly soon.
KING: Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois.