CBS "EARLY SHOW" INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL) INTERVIEWER: HARRY SMITH
MR. SMITH: Here to talk more about the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group is the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
Good morning, Senator.
SEN. OBAMA: Good to see you.
MR. SMITH: First off, is there a portion of this book that's come out that stands out to you as being the most important?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think cumulatively what it does is, for the first time we've got an agreed-upon set of facts in Iraq. And that's important, because there's been a lot of dispute and a lot of politics involved in assessing the situation there.
MR. SMITH: Right.
SEN. OBAMA: And I think the most important service that the study group rendered was to say, "This is the situation. As a bipartisan group, we have determined that it's grim and it's deteriorating."
MR. SMITH: "Dire and deteriorating" are the words they described.
SEN. OBAMA: That's exactly right. So describing the situation is a start for coming up with better strategies.
Now, the second thing I thought was most significant was the recognition that if we want to achieve any kind of stability there, there's got to be a political rather than a military solution --
MR. SMITH: Right.
SEN. OBAMA: -- and that we should not have our combat troops on the ground in Iraq.
MR. SMITH: Do you have any sense whatsoever that Prime Minister Maliki has the political will or the ability to figure out a way to get the Iraqis to stop killing each other? Because that's what this is all about.
SEN. OBAMA: We don't know. And obviously the last year has not made me optimistic about his capacity to do that. On the other hand, it's not clear that we've tested him.
MR. SMITH: Right. Do you think this whole thing with the incentives, this sort of carrot-and-stick approach, is something that might work, that "We'll hold back with our help unless you get these political benchmarks or milestones accomplished"?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, first of all, I think that many of the recommendations like conditioning economic aid and so forth can be helpful. I personally believe that until we begin a phased redeployment, they are not going to take seriously the idea that we expect them to change behavior.
MR. SMITH: But here we are; the president has already said, "I'm going to look at these recommendations, but I still want to hear from the joint chiefs." The joint chiefs could come back in a couple of days and say, "We need more people." Retired General Zinni said the same thing. John McCain has said we need more people.
What if the president says in the end, "Maybe what we really need is another 50,000 troops on the ground"?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think there's two points there. Number one, our military can't accommodate a lot more troops. It's already been gutted as a consequence of its use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The second thing, and more importantly, if an additional 50,000 troops don't have a clearer mandate than the existing troops there, there's no reason to believe that somehow there will be significant improvement. What's needed is the capacity, for example, for Maliki to say, "We are going to disarm the militias." Now, if he says, "We need 50,000 troops to disarm the militias," then conceivably there might be a rationale for it. That's not forthcoming.
MR. SMITH: If you were the president of the United States, how seriously would you take these recommendations?
SEN. OBAMA: I would take these recommendations very seriously. I gave a speech three weeks ago that parallels many of the recommendations. The one thing I would insist upon is that it is up to the commander in chief to set the goals for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I think our goal now should be to put more of the onus on the Iraqis to come to the political accommodation that's necessary.
MR. SMITH: All right, you said the other day that you are thinking about thinking about running for president. You're going to New Hampshire this weekend. A lot of eyes are going to be on you there.
SEN. OBAMA: Right.
MR. SMITH: How should we interpret your trip?
SEN. OBAMA: As a process of me exploring what's out there, and also to encourage New Hampshire Democrats, who had a great Election Day a month ago.
MR. SMITH: All right, Mr. Senator, we do appreciate your time this morning. We really, really appreciate having you here. Good luck this weekend.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.