Obama on the Surge: "Had Those Political Factors Not Occurred, I Think That My Assessment Would Have Been Correct"

"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence" in Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said in January 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

In Baghdad yesterday, after a day spent witnessing the reduction in violence in Iraq, Obama was asked by ABC News' Terry Moran if he was wrong..

"Here is what I will say," Obama said, "I think that, I did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct."

Obama went on to say "the fact is that there was a combination, I think. Look, the troops and General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker deserve enormous credit for that and that is credit that I have given publicly. And I will say, again this is the danger of politics is that I can probably show you a couple of other quotes, in which I said 'Look, whenever you put US soldiers on the ground, in those particular areas, they are going to have an impact.' So it wasn’t any doubt that you have an additional 20 thousand troops and where they are right there it is going to have an impact."

"Well, you were saying that it would not make a significant dent in the violence," Moran said.

"In the violence in Iraq overall, right," Obama acknowledged. "So the point that I was making at the time was that the political dynamic was the driving force between that sectarian violence. And we could try to keep a lid on it,  but if these underlining dynamic continued to bubble up and explode the way they were, then we would be in a difficult situation. I am glad that in fact those political dynamic shifted at the same time that our troops did outstanding work."

Moran asked what Iraq would look like now if Obama's policy of withdrawing in the face of the violence had been implemented.

"That is a hard thing to speculate," Obama said, "The Sunnis might have made the same decisions at that time. The Shii’as might have made some similar decisions based on political calculation. There was ethnic cleansing in Baghdad that actually took the violence level down. And so, as I said before. Nobody has a crystal ball. If we did you just hire the guy with the crystal ball."

Obama maintained that his decision was not wrong. "In the meantime we have spent an additional 200-to-300 billion dollars. The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, by every measure. Al Qaeda is still running loose, right. So the problem with these debates is that, if you focus narrowly on the tactics inside of Iraq then you get one perspective. If on the other hand, your job, which I believe is the president's job, is to make a series of difficult choices and calculations about what is going to lead to our long term security then you get a different perspective. What I've been trying to push throughout this campaign is for that broader view."

Obama continued: "And listen, here is something that I probably don't say often enough. John McCain doesn't want to see us take a wrong strategy when it comes to fighting the war on Terror. I think John McCain wants to see America safe just like I do. And so I respect his best judgments in many of these issues, but I think it's important to recognize that on the majority of issues that we've faced in terms of foreign policy, not just over the past 4 years but over the past 6, 7 years that my batting average is pretty darn good."

If you had to do it over again, Moran asked, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?

"No," Obama said. "These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult. Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is at that time we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with and one that I continue to disagree with is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."

- jpt

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