Guest Column: U.S. Sen. Barack Obama responds to letter

Editor’s note: The following letter from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is in response to a letter from Rockford resident David Stocker. Stocker’s letter appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue of The Rock River Times.

Dear David:

Thank you for contacting me with your strong opposition to our policy in Iraq.

When I ran for the Senate, I opposed the resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq. The threat was not imminent. There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

The Administration had no clear strategy to piece Iraq back together.

At the time, voicing opposition to the war in Iraq was not a politically popular thing to do. I spoke out because I believed it was the right thing to do. The same principle—doing the right thing—is guiding my decision-making on Iraq today.

The Administration’s handling of the war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq have been badly mismanaged. This is not a partisan assessment as several leading Republicans in Congress have also been critical of the Administration’s efforts in Iraq. The best course of action for the U.S. is to bring our troops home as soon as possible, while giving the Iraqi people a reasonable chance to govern their own affairs, and preventing Iraq from collapsing into complete civil war and chaos.

During a recent hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I pressed Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice on a number of issues, including:

The length of time the Bush Administration is committed to holding that country together, if Iraq’s political parties do not form the type of government that the Administration envisions;

The issue of the shift in rationale for war from weapons of mass destruction to a much broader mission of bringing democracy to the broader Middle East, and its implications on our mission in Iraq;

The Administration’s definition of success in Iraq; and

The contingency plans (or lack thereof) that the Administration possesses in the event that the political process collapses under its own weight.

Other members of the Foreign Relations Committee questioned Secretary Rice on the Administration’s plans on Syria, a flexible timetable for withdraw from Iraq, and the ability (or inability) of the Iraqi constitution to reconcile fundamental differences between the various ethnic groups.

Secretary Rice’s response to the Committee was entirely unsatisfactory due to the lack of information about an exit strategy. The Administration continues to provide only open-ended, vague commitments without clear guideposts to whether we are succeeding or failing. Secretary Rice spoke about “conditions-based withdrawal,” but has not put forward any meaningful benchmarks or measures that outline what these conditions might be. The Administration simply cannot be given a pass on this point.

As tempting as it is to call for an immediate and complete withdrawal, I think it is important that we stage any eventual withdrawal so as to minimize the potential risk of a destabilizing civil war and widespread ethnic conflict. Not only could this result in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, but it could lead to a situation where the U.S. could be forced to expand its military presence in Iraq.

I do believe, though, that after the Dec. 15th elections, the question should be when, and not if, our troops come home. If the Iraqis are serious about keeping the country together, they must arrive at the political compromises necessary to do so, and facilitate the objective of drawing down U.S. troops next year.

My main goal now is forcing the Administration to put forward specific benchmarks to do that. With ratification of the Iraqi constitution and the pending election of a new government, two major Administration benchmarks will have been met. And it will be time to tell the American people how this engagement is going to end.

Thank you again for writing. Please feel free to keep in touch with me on this and any other issue of concern to you.


Barack Obama

United States Senator

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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