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Concord Monitor - Obama: 'It is time to bring our troops home'

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Concord Monitor - Obama: 'It is time to bring our troops home'

Walter Alarkon

Sen. Barack Obama, one day after taking part in a Iraq debate all-nighter, reiterated yesterday in Sunapee that American troops should start leaving Iraq.

"It is time to bring our troops home because it has made us less safe," said Obama, an Illinois Democrat running for president. "This has been a distraction from the real war on terrorists, and the fact of the matter is that al-Qaida, we know from the national intelligence reports, has gotten stronger."

In his 11th Granite State visit this year, Obama brought out his anti-Iraq war bona fides. During his campaign, the first-term U.S. senator has drawn distinctions from his Democratic rivals by noting that he opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2002, when he was in the Illinois state senate. Each of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates in the U.S. Senate that year voted for a resolution giving President Bush the power to use military force against Saddam Hussein.

Obama told about 500 people beside Lake Sunapee yesterday that Americans want to know that their leaders can get things done together. He ran through a litany of challenges that the country faces - health care, an education system that is "leaving millions of children behind," energy policy and the economy - before turning to the Iraq war.

"We've got a war that never should have been authorized, a war that has cost us half a trillion dollars, a war that has cost us over 3,600 precious American lives, and a war that has not made us more safe," he said, drawing cheers. "A war that after all that sacrifice has made us less safe and diminished our standing in the world."

Obama proposed a plan in January that called for troops to begin withdrawing in May and for the removal of all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat besting Obama in New Hampshire and national primary polls, has also supported a redeployment of troops from Iraq.
After an overnight Senate debate, Obama, Clinton, Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd - all Democrats running for president - supported a plan requiring troop withdrawals within 120 days. The plan failed on a procedural vote. Democratic candidates John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have proposed a complete troop withdrawal.

Yesterday, Obama called on New Hampshire Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu, Republicans who opposed the plan, to switch their votes.

"They have said that they recognize the surge is not working the way it should and it is time for us to have a change of course," Obama said. "But that's not how they voted in Washington, and so it is important for the people of New Hampshire and all across the country to say to the senators in a respectful way that if you recognize it is time to change course, then you've got to vote in order to change course."

In a statement last night, Gregg said that the proposal would "result in chaos in Iraq, thousands more deaths, the defeat of democracy, and would severely compromise our national security."

The crowd wildly cheered Obama's statements on Iraq, despite heavy rains and Obama's late arrival, 48 minutes after the campaign told supporters that they would begin serving ice cream.

"I like that he was against the war from the outset," said Louise Spencer, an attorney from Concord who supports Obama. "He's got a great deal of credibility in my eyes."

Spencer said she would like to see the war over immediately but said she believed in Obama's plan to withdraw troops gradually.

"What I'm looking for is someone who's smart, who can assess what's best for the American people and the Iraqi people, someone who will work and listen to advisers and who can deal with complexity," said Spencer, who came to her decision after a vacation overseas, when she heard from Germans who were impressed by Obama.

Just as he has done in his two books and in speeches, Obama said yesterday that he can bring about change to Washington if he has broad support of Americans. Don Coakley, a Sunapee resident and a self-proclaimed "open-minded" independent, asked Obama why he thought the United States was less safe today. Coakley, who supported the removal of Hussein from power, pointed to the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which said that "United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations."

Obama replied that one reason was that the United States had yet to "chop off the head of al-Qaida," Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. "And as a consequence, they have been able to regroup and reconsolidate in Pakistan and Afghanistan and recruit a whole new group of lieutenants," said Obama, who added that he read the intelligence report yesterday. "That's point No. 1. Point No. 2: Thousands of new terrorists have been trained in Iraq, which was not a hotbed of terrorist activity but has become one, and they are now importing that terrorist activity to other countries."

He mentioned that there's an increase in terrorist activity in Lebanon, Jordan and Europe. "Where you used to have one single group that was highly concentrated in Afghanistan, you now have cells that have spread all over, and unfortunately, Iraq has become the cause around which terrorists have rallied. And that's why the national intelligence, that same estimate you just read from, has made the assessment that the terrorists threat is at least as great and the al-Qaida threat is at least as great as back in 2001."

Coakley said that he thought that setting a deadline for an troop withdrawal would be a disaster for Iraq and the United States, but he recognized that many mistakes had been made in the war's conduct.

"I would love to see the war end," said Coakley, "but it's not finished and I don't know if that's something we can rush."


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