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NBC "Today" Interview with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)


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MR. GREGORY: Now, for a view from the Democratic side of the aisle, we turn to Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who's also gearing up for a run for the White House.

Senator Obama, good morning.

SEN. OBAMA: Good morning, David.

MR. GREGORY: Last night, speaking about his new strategy for Iraq, the president said to war critics on both sides of the aisle, quote, "Give it a chance to work." Why not do that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think the American people have given Mr. Bush over three years now to try to come up with a strategy in Iraq. When this first happened, I was skeptical and was opposed to the war because I was concerned that we'd be there in an open-ended fashion. I wasn't convinced that there were weapons of mass destruction. But despite my opposition, over the last three years I've tried to be supportive in making sure that we at least get a decent outcome.

But at a certain point, I think people start believing that a military solution is not going to bring about a stable Iraq. And it's time for us to try a different strategy that puts the onus on the Iraqis to arrive at a political accommodation. I think we're past the point when we can arrive at a military solution.

MR. GREGORY: All right, well, let's talk about that. You want a cap on U.S. troops at the moment. You also want a phased withdrawal of troops. How precisely would you begin to withdraw U.S. forces?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think we have to consult with military commanders on the ground to make sure that not only we have safety for our troops, but also that we're working in concert with the Iraqi government as they're coming to a political accommodation to deal with logistics, training, counterinsurgency activities, and make sure that the conflict does not spill out into a regional conflict.

But the important point is to change the dynamic and to say to the Iraqi government, "We need you to focus on politics." We need to focus regionally on diplomacy. The military has a role, but it can't impose a solution. I think that we're well past that point.

MR. GREGORY: But is it also an important point to say specifically if you want a phased withdrawal, if the government were to fall, if there were an explosion of civilian deaths inside of Baghdad, if the Saudis start supporting the insurgency, if Iran gets in, would you be prepared to recommit U.S. forces to put down that new spate of violence?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors like Iran that we're not abandoning the field.

The important point is to change how the Iraqis are viewing the situation. Right now, because of our open-ended commitment, not only have we lost over 3,000 lives and spent hundreds of billions of dollars, but there's a sense on the part of the Maliki government that we will be there to keep the lid on things even as they continue to show an unwillingness to accommodate the Sunnis. And the same is true on the Sunni side as well. That's what's got to change.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, let me ask you about presidential politics. If Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton were to be elected president, it would make it for this country 20-plus years of either a Bush or a Clinton being in the White House as president. Do you think that's bad for America?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I think that Senator Clinton is an extraordinary public servant. And I think the American people will make a decision in terms of who they think can best lead us into the future.

The important point for whoever the Democratic nominee is -- and, I would argue, whoever the Republican nominee is -- is to put together a vision for where we can take the country at a time when we've got some enormous challenges in front of us.

We've got major health care challenges. We've got to make ourselves more competitive. And we've got to recraft our foreign policy to deal with our national security, to deal with terrorism, but also to help to stitch back together a sense around the world that America is leading with its values and its ideals.

MR. GREGORY: You've seen in just the first week of your campaign some of the ugly side of politics; a report surfacing this week that you attended a radical Islamic school in Indonesia. Reporting has since emerged that that school was no such thing.

I wonder how you think your political enemies will try to capitalize on your background overall, including, quite frankly, the fact that your middle name is Hussein.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, when I was in Illinois running for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama is not your typical name and everybody questioned how voters would respond, and we ended up winning 70 percent of the vote. So I'm not unaccustomed to this.

I give the American people enormous credit, and I think they recognize the notion that me going to school in Indonesia for two years at a public school there at the age of seven and eight is probably not going to be endangering in some way, you know, the people of America.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Obama, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

SEN. OBAMA: Great to talk to you.


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