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CBS "Face the Nation" Interview with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Interview

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown


CBS "FACE THE NATION"
HOST: BOB SCHIEFFER
GUEST: SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL)

MR. SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Barack Obama who joins us from Chicago.

Well, you just heard what Senator McCain said, Senator Obama. He said people who are opposed to this should come out and flat vote to cut off funding. He said it's not enough to have a non-binding resolution. What would be your response that? Are you ready to do that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, let's talk about a couple of things that Senator McCain said. First of all, I think Senator McCain has been consistent. He voted for the authorization, and he has consistently pursued the course that we're on right now. One of the things that I strongly disagree with Senator McCain, though, is this notion that we have future catastrophe to look forward to if we start phasing down troops. We are in the catastrophe that Senator McCain described right now. We've got bloodletting taking place. We see great influence of Iran in the region as the consequences of us moving forward. And so those of us who object to what I consider to be a disastrous policy on the part of the Bush administration have in fact put forward a different approach. One that, by the way, tracks what the Iraq Study Group talked about.

Two months before the Iraq Study Group came out with its proposal, I suggested that if we initiated a phased withdrawal, that provides us leverage to make sure that the Iraqis are actually doing what needs to be done to arrive at a political accommodation. And Senator McCain and the president seem to believe that only a military solution can accomplish our goals there. And every objective observer that I've talked to believes that in fact what we have is a political problem between Shi'a and Sunni, and it's important for us to get that political track moving. That was absent from the president's speech.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's go back to what I asked you. Would you be willing then to cut off funds, Senator, if you do not agree with sending these additional troops? I mean, that's the toughest choice you could make I would say. Are you ready to go that far?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think this thing is going to proceed in steps. I think the resolution's going to come forward. And I think that will send a message that in fact there is great skepticism within Congress and certainly among the American people for this plan. What I've said then is that we need to look at what options do we have available to constrain the president, to hopefully right the course that we're on right now, but to do so in a way that makes sure that the troops that are on the ground have all the equipment and the resources they need to fulfill their mission and to come home safely.

And look, this is not an easy thing to do. The president has already begun these additional deployments. And we, unfortunately, are not going to be voting on funding for several weeks, perhaps months.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, there's nothing to stop you. I mean, you could introduce, you know, legislation yourself if you wanted to do that.

SEN. OBAMA: But funding is doing to come through the supplemental, Bob, and the president hasn't yet presented that. But here's the important point. I think that what we want to do is to, number one, measure what is happening in Congress. And I think that you saw in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there is bipartisan skepticism, not Democratic skepticism to this plan. The second thing we want to do is to find out are there ways that we can provide some sort of timetable to the president that says let's start putting the onus on the Iraqis to make certain that they accomplish what ultimately is going to be necessary in order for us to have some sort of resolution to this problem. And that's going to be Shi'a and Sunnis sitting down together and saying that we want to come together as a single country. That has not happened yet. And frankly, in my conversations with the president as well as Secretary Rice, I did not see any plan for them to be willing to move that forward.

And so, hopefully, as we start seeing this debate move forward, we're going to see a little more flexibility on the part of the administration in terms of putting the pressure on the Iraqis to do what they need to do.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, let me go back and tell you what Vice President Cheney said this morning on the Fox talk show. He said that if we pull back from Iraq, it would just show what Osama bin Laden has always said, is that we didn't have the stomach for this fight, and that it will hurt us. It will hurt us in the fight against terrorism around the world. Vice President Cheney also said that if you pass a resolution of disapproval, that will really undermine the troops that we're sending over there. In general, how do you respond to those two questions?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, the vice president has pursued this wrong- headed course throughout the process. And you can see the results that we have right now. It is important for us at this point as Americans -- not as Democrats and Republicans -- to focus on how do we deal with what is a bad situation. I think everybody agrees that it's a bad situation. The specific proposal that I've put forward that is echoed in the Iraq Study Group does not call for an immediate, total withdrawal. And I think Senator McCain and Senator (sic) Cheney have been directing their fire at a straw man, suggesting that Democrats have called for a total withdrawal. What we have suggested is that we begin a phased pullout, based on communications with commanders on the field, to make sure that our troops can still provide logistical support, can still provide the training, can still provide the counterinsurgency activities that are necessary in Iraq. But underscore to the Iraqi government and to folks in the region that what we need is a political accommodation between the Shi'a and the Sunni. We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality -- we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You heard the president the other night. He said that, basically, we have no choice, because to fail there -- if we leave, he said -- you know, if we don't prevail there, basically is what he said, it will be a catastrophe. Do you agree with that? I mean, do you think there would be no impact if we began even a phased withdrawal, if the Iraqis knew we were leaving?

SEN. OBAMA: I think that if we begin a well-structured, phased redeployment in concert with a surge in diplomacy in the region and improvement in terms of how we deal with reconstruction and how we convene regional powers -- including, by the way, the Iranians and the Syrians -- that there are risks involved in that approach. But there's certainly no more risks than the approach that is being pursued by the administration and Senator McCain, which suggests that we can simply continue the course that we've been on for the last several years, which resulted in over 3,000 Americans dying and us spending over $400 billion with no end in sight. And so, I think it's important to understand that the options are not either total withdrawal or a stay the course-plus which is essentially what the administration's proposing. But rather, the kind of thoughtful, bipartisan strategy that's been suggested by not just Democrats but also Republicans, not just civilians but also by the military.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Now, you know, early next week, we expect to have this non-binding resolution of disapproval come before the Senate. Senator Kennedy also says he is going to introduce legislation to flatly cut off funding for an expansion of the war. I take it from what you're saying that you are not ready at this time to vote with Senator Kennedy.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think that all of us are concerned in making sure that whatever resolutions or legislation or proposals that are out there don't potentially strand troops that are already there. I am fully supportive of Senator Kennedy's intent, and I think Senator Levin is as well, and the majority of the Democratic caucus is interested in figuring out how do we constrain the president. I personally think that if there are ways that we can constrain and condition what the president's doing so that four to six months from now we are beginning a phased withdrawal while making sure that the troops on the ground have the equipment that they need to succeed, then that is going to be the area that I'm most interested in supporting.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, we're about out of time, Senator. But I have to ask you the question -- we hear that you may announce sooner than later whether or not you're going to seek the Democratic presidential nomination; some are saying as early as next week. What can you tell us?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I will have something to say about that fairly soon, Bob. And obviously, there's been a lot of talk. It's something that I've been considering. I said I've been considering it, and we'll be making an announcement fairly soon.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Days or weeks?

SEN. OBAMA: It will be pretty soon, Bob.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Thank you very much, Senator.

SEN. OBAMA: Great to talk to you. Thank you.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Back in a minute.

(Announcements.)

END.


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