March 20, 2008 – In Charleston, West Virginia, Mar. 20, Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama continued his criticisms of Bush’s handling of the Iraq war. To a standing ovation, Obama pledged to bring the Iraq war to an end in his first term as president.
Focusing his remarks on the costs of war and the obligation to veterans, Obama stated, “We honor the brave men and women serving this nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. A grateful nation slautes them.”
No one pays as a high a price for war as troops themselves and the people who love them, he said. But we are all paying a high price for the war in other ways.
When National Guard troops are diverted to Iraq and aren’t here to provide aid during natural and other disasters in their home states, that is a cost of this war, Obama pointed out. He cited the 2005 hurricanes in the Gulf Coast and recent flooding in West Virginia and throughout the Midwest and upper South.
Obama also described the Bush administration’s diversion of resources from the fight in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda to Iraq as a strategic blunder that has not made anyone safer.
Additionally, the Iraq war has cost US prestige and leadership on major global issues that impact our country as well, Obama added, including global poverty, disease, genocide, and nuclear proliferation.
The diversion of federal resources to give tax breaks for the wealthy and no-bid contracts to administration-friendly corporations like Halliburton has come at the expense of providing adequate funding for veterans health care. Obama cited Ft. Drum in New York, Hillary Clinton’s home state, where recent reports indicate that returning veterans are waiting months to gain access to the VA health care system there due to a lack of adequate funding.
Describing the commitment to veterans as a “sacred trust” that has not yet been lived up to, Obama pledged to fully fund the VA. “We shouldn’t have a VA that falls short half way through the year every year,” he said.
Economically, Americans are paying for the war in other ways as well, he continued. Each household is paying about $100 per month for the war. Skyrocketing gas prices – four times higher now than before the war – are not only taking a toll on working families’ pocketbooks but also on the general economy pushing up prices across the board.
“The cost of this war has been far higher than what we were told it would be,” Obama said. Obama appeared to refer to recent estimates by prominent economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz that put an estimate for the final cost of the war conservatively at $3 trillion.
Endless war and endless tax cuts for the rich, the hallmarks of the Bush administration have wounded the US economy, he continued. In addition to massive new debt piled onto the backs of future generation, Bush-McCain war and economic policies have forced the US to deepen its debt to other countries like China, Obama said.
Bush administration officials convinced many Americans to support the war by promising it would cost as little as $50 or $60 billion. Bush didn’t tell us the truth, Obama said.
Obama did not limit his criticisms to Bush, however. “John McCain refuses learn from the failures of the Bush years. Instead of offering us an exit strategy from Iraq, he’s offering us a hundred year occupation,” Obama said.
“No matter what the costs, no matter what the consequences, John McCain seems determined to carry out a third Bush term,” Obama stated.
“Senator McCain is embracing the failed policies of the past. But America,” Obama added, “is ready to embrace the policies of the future. That’s why I’m running for president of the United States of America.”
Obama also raised the issue of Hillary Clinton’s “tragically ill-considered decision” to vote for the war. It is difficult for Clinton to now criticize John McCain for supporting Bush’s endless war policies and the burdens of their costs having cast her vote for the war in 2002, he said.
For her part, Hillary Clinton has promised to initiate a discussion among her top advisers on how to begin the process of troop withdrawal within 60 days of the start of her administration. While her pledge is to begin withdrawal rapidly, according to her campaign web site, no specific information on neither the numbers of troops to be brought home nor a time frame is indicated. Clinton’s plan also insists that troop withdrawal would be based on stability in Iraq, a condition that appears to resemble the Bush-McCain conditions for troop reductions.
Obama’s plan, as laid out in his most recent war policy statement made on Wed. Mar. 19, by contrast, rejected Bush’s linkage of troop drawdowns to “success” and insisted that political stability in Iraq will only come as the threat of troop withdrawal is pronounced. (Many military experts point to the success of the anti-war sentiments in the 2006 US elections as at least one key reason a number of former insurgent Iraqi groups chose to begin to work with the US military.) Thus, Obama argued for an immediate phased withdrawal to aim at completion with 16 months, an immediate shift in mission away form combat duty, and refocusing efforts on Al Qaeda in the region.
The vagueness of Clinton’s plan, its rationale and conditionality, and her vote to authorize the war in the first place make it difficult to believe that she will move with urgency to bring the war to an end.
Obama’s plan appears to have originated from the school of thought in the military articulated by the so-called Jones Commission last fall. Mandated by Congress and President Bush, the Jones Commission argued that the cause of instability in Iraq lay in the size of the US “footprint” in Iraq.
The commission urged a “changed role for the US military” and the rapid shift of autonomy and control over security concerns to Iraqi authorities. The commission pointed to the phased withdrawal of British troops from Iraq as a model for how the US could begin to end its involvement there. Without an end date, the commission noted, Iraqis come to depend on US forces and feel no real urgency for resolving the political strife in their country.
“How much longer are we going to ask our troops to bear the cost of this war? When are we going to stop mortgaging our children’s futures for Washington’s mistakes?,” Obama asked.
Ending the battle in Iraq will allow us to take up the fight for a universal health care system, improved education for our children, real job growth, and the fight to track down the real perpetrators of the September 11th attacks, Obama concluded.