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NBC "Today"-Transcript


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NBC "Today"-Transcript

MR. LAUER: Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is due to speak a little later this morning.

Senator, good morning to you.

SEN. OBAMA: Good morning, Matt. How are you?

MR. LAUER: I'm fine, thank you. As you've heard, Republicans are calling this a staged event, a political stunt. And certainly, to be honest, it had some theatrical elements to it. Are you at all worried, Senator, that the content of the debate gets lost in the staging of the event?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, actually, I think there was a very serious debate, and it's based on some fundamental differences. I think reasonable people can differ on this issue because there are no good options in Iraq. We should not have gone. At this point we have bad options and worse options. But we are facing a choice. My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now.

MR. LAUER: But it seems, Senator, that what this event, this all-nighter, has created is more barbs being thrown from side to side. Let me read you something Lamar Alexander said. He said, "Instead of this gamesmanship, we should be trying to put together a unified position."

He estimates there are as many as 70 senators who oppose the current White House strategy and who could rally around a centrist alternative. So what is that centrist alternative, and why don't we get to that, as opposed -- and get into some positive actions?

SEN. OBAMA: Matt, that is exactly what we're aiming for. But keep in mind that we have two choices. Either we define the mission differently or we don't, and we leave it up to the president to define the mission.

And it is my assessment and the American people's assessment that this strategy has not worked, that al Qaeda has gotten stronger in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that we are fighting on the wrong battlefield, and the Iraqi government has not done the work it needs to do to resolve the civil war in Iraq.

MR. LAUER: There are a lot of different plans on the horizon, Senator, if this amendment fails. There are others perhaps down the road that would force or try to force the president to adopt a new strategy. Some would try to force the president to adopt the Iraq Study Group recommendations.

Senator Hillary Clinton is perhaps going to propose an amendment that would deauthorize the war. You said there are no second chances. But if the result of that amendment would be to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, why would you oppose it?

SEN. OBAMA: Oh, I didn't say I would oppose it. My simple point was this, that either we're going to constrain the president in some way with respect to the mission in Iraq or we're not.

Now, keep in mind, because I know my terrific colleague, Lindsey Graham, is going to be following me, he will argue that we should not micromanage the war. The point here is not to tell military commanders how to do their job. They've done an outstanding job. The question is, what is the job we're asking them to do? That is the role of civilian leadership. And our civilian leadership has failed our military, and our troops are bearing the burden for it.

So what we have to do is define a mission for them that can be successful. I believe a phased withdrawal that allows us to ramp up diplomacy is going to be the successful strategy.

MR. LAUER: I know you've got to speak on the floor of the Senate in a short while, so I thank you for stopping and taking time with me this morning, Senator.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you so much, Matt.

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