Omaha World-Herald - Obama: No 'Do-Overs' on Issues Like War
By Mike Glover
Presidential contender Barack Obama on Tuesday dismissed his Democratic rivals' change of heart on the Iraq war as too little too late, while Hillary Rodham Clinton urged a quick end to U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Obama, an Illinois senator, and Clinton, a New York senator, focused on the nearly 4 1/2 year war in dueling speeches only a few city blocks apart in the first-in-the-nation voting state of Iowa. Senators will have a chance to vote in the coming days on whether to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, where the conflict has claimed more than 3,600 U.S. lives.
"Being a leader means that you'd better do what's right and leave the politics aside because there are no do-overs on an issue as important as war," Obama said, adding that the Iraq war should never should have been authorized or waged.
Obama, then a state lawmaker in Illinois, opposed the war from the start. Clinton voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to launch the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, but has said she would have opposed the war if she knew then what she knows now.
"Our message to the president is clear," Clinton told a crowd of about 250. "It is time to begin ending this war - not next year, not next month - but today."
Throughout the campaign, the two - who have raised more money than their rivals and rank high in most opinion polls - have debated the nuances of their opposition to the war.
In the Senate, Clinton and Obama are both sponsoring Iraq-related amendments to the defense bill being considered this week. Two other Democrats with White House ambitions - Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut - are sponsoring proposals as well.
Clinton, along with West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, will introduce an amendment to repeal congressional authorization for the war. It would require President Bush to seek new authority from Congress to extend the conflict beyond Oct. 11, 2007, five years after the original permission was given.
Obama is taking the lead on amendments that would boost funding for mental health services for veterans and require better government oversight of military contractors.
Most Democrats are expected to support an amendment that would require combat troops to begin redeployment from Iraq within 120 days of enactment.
Dodd wants to take matters a step further: He will introduce an amendment that would require troops to be withdrawn immediately and end funding for all combat operations by March 31, 2008.
Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, is sponsoring an amendment to increase funding for mine-resistant vehicles for Iraq and Afghanistan. He's also continuing to push a plan to partition Iraq along ethnic lines.
And, in a direct challenge to his Democratic rivals, former North Carolina senator John Edwards called on citizens "to let Congress know that we expect them to act decisively to end the war in Iraq.
"Congress should no longer facilitate the President's stubborn allegiance to his failed strategy," Edwards said in a statement. "The one way to support our troops and bring them home is for Congress to exercise its constitutionally mandated funding power, force an immediate drawdown of 40,000 to 50,000 troops and require withdrawal of all troops within about a year."
On the Republican side, John McCain continued to side with President Bush. Speaking on the Senate floor, the Arizona lawmaker defended the troop buildup in Iraq and contended that reinforcements had only just been put in place. He made his sixth trip to Iraq last week.
"Make no mistake. Violence in Baghdad remains at unacceptably high levels," but the United States and Iraq seem to be "moving in the right direction," McCain said. "The progress our military has made should encourage us."
Clinton's biggest applause in her speech in the ornate ballroom of the Temple for the Performing Arts came when she touted her legislation to deauthorize the war. Clinton said withdrawing U.S. troops would be her top priority if elected.
If Bush won't end the war, Clinton said, "this will be my first and most important mission as president."
Obama was in Iowa for what aides had described as a speech on jobs and the economy, but he made it clear that the war in Iraq overshadowed all other issues.
In an automative technology classroom at a local community college, Obama said told a crowd of about 500 that an upcoming report on the war's progress will show that Iraq's political leaders have not achieved any of the goals.
"I think it is time for all of us to acknowledge that we have to find a responsible but certain way to start bringing our combat troops home and stop having them in the midst of a civil war," he said.
The dueling appearances forced central Iowa Democrats to choose which candidate they most wanted to hear talk about the country's future.