NBC "Today" -Transcript
MR. GREGORY: Senator Barack Obama, who is running for president, will deliver what he is calling a major policy speech today on Iraq.
Senator Obama, good morning to you.
SEN. OBAMA: Good morning, David.
MR. GREGORY: You heard Secretary Rice say that there was progress in Iraq that cannot be ignored, and she spoke about when, not if, the United States prevails in Iraq. Do you see it that way?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I think it's important to understand that after two days of testimony, here's the bottom line, that having put an additional 30,000 troops in and continued the same course that we're on, we are now back to the horrendous levels of violence that we were back in June of 2006.
So there's no doubt that we've seen some measured progress in Anbar province, primarily because the Sunni tribal leaders made a political decision there that they would work with the coalition forces. We've seen a very modest reduction in violence in Baghdad, partly because entire neighborhoods have essentially been ethnically cleansed.
Those are all positive things. But we are now back at the levels of violence that we were 18 months ago. And what the president and Secretary Rice and others seem to be calling for is that we're going to maintain troop levels well over 100,000 for the foreseeable future. And I think the American people recognize that we can't just continue on that same course.
MR. GREGORY: Indeed, you say that the American people recognize this, and you want the withdrawal of troops beginning by this year, all out by next year. But would you also have to concede that, given your criticism, or despite your criticism, the Democrats do not have the political power in the Congress to challenge the president on what he wants to do?
SEN. OBAMA: What I know is that we cannot override the president's decision without some help from our Republican colleagues. And our hope --
MR. GREGORY: But what's happened, Senator? Because, I mean, isn't this a leadership function? Democrats assumed control of Congress in 2006, and yet you're on the campaign trail; there are prominent Democrats on the campaign trail running for president, getting a lot of air time and print time, and yet you've not been able to persuade Republicans to see the war your way. Why not?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, David, I think that's a question you're going to have to ask Republicans, because the American people see it our way. And the fact is that in the Senate we need 60 votes to override the president's decision, and we have not seen the kind of movement that I think we need.
Now, the critical issue here is how do we begin an orderly, phased redeployment where we're as careful getting out as we were careless getting in? I think we can get one to two brigades out every month. At that pace, we can have our combat troops out by next year. And it's got to be a combination of strong diplomacy that puts pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at the political accommodation that they need to, as well as the kind of humanitarian assistance for Iraqis who've been displaced that's going to prevent all-out chaos, even as we withdraw.
MR. GREGORY: But Senator, let's talk about a political reality, which is if you can't persuade Republicans to come your way, that's not going to happen. So if you're elected president of the United States, in January of 2009 there's going to be at least 100,000 troops in Iraq, most likely.
If that happens and you are president, what kind of political progress would you have to see? What kind of security progress would you have to see to change your mind and not immediately withdraw troops?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I don't think that it's a matter of changing my mind. I am clear that even with political progress in Iraq, that the course we're on is unsustainable and that it is making us less safe because it's distracting us from the critical issues that we've got to face when it comes to al Qaeda in Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border, when it comes to making sure that we have the sufficient troop forces to deal with contingencies elsewhere in the world.
MR. GREGORY: But whatever the consequences of withdrawal, you will not change your position?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, no, I think there would obviously be an important conversation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in terms of how to execute a phased withdrawal that makes sense, that stabilizes Iraq. I would certainly leave residual forces in the region that could deal with counterterrorist activities inside of Iraq.
MR. GREGORY: How many? How many would you leave? What's sufficient?
SEN. OBAMA: That would be something that you consult with your commanders on the ground with respect to making sure that they can carry out their mission. The main thing, though, David, is this. We can't continue on the same course that we're on and expect a different outcome.
This has now been five years in which the president has pursued a course in Iraq that is not working. And the only thing that's going to trigger different behavior from the Iraqi government is a recognition that we're not going to have permanent bases there; we're not going to be there forever. And that's, I think, what the American people are looking for now.
MR. GREGORY: And we'll hear more about that in your speech today. Senator Barack Obama, thank you very much.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you.