by John McCormick
CLINTON, Iowa – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama this afternoon called for an immediate start to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq -- with a goal of full removal by the end of 2008 -- as he suggested the nation has lost its way because of the war.
"We're not going to be truly united and resolute as Americans until we can stop holding our breath, until we can come together to reclaim our foreign policy and our politics and end this war that has cost us too much," he said.
Obama's plan, outlined before an audience of about 500 at Ashford University, calls for the complete pullout of troops by the end of next year by bringing home one or two brigades each month.
"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq. There never was," he said. "'The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now."
Other Democratic candidates have also called for the immediate start of a troop withdrawal. While Obama's speech added some new details, it did not offer any dramatic new insights about his position on the war.
"The American people have the right instincts on Iraq," Obama said. "It's time to heed their judgment…I will be a president who listens to the American people, not a president who ignores the American people."
The speech came a day after Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker updated Congress on the war during two days of testimony.
Obama discounted any signs of progress in the war-torn nation.
"This has little to do with the surge," he said. "It's because Sunni tribal leaders made a political decision to turn against al Qaeda in Iraq. This only underscores the point – the solution in Iraq is political, it is not military," he said.
As he often does, Obama pointed out that he opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2002, a central point of his campaign that seeks to offer a contrast with Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who did vote to authorize force before Obama was a senator.
Obama called for a new constitutional convention in Iraq to be convened by the United Nations. He also called for increasing U.S. aid to $2 billion this year to help displaced Iraqis, plus more support for social services for refugees in neighboring countries.
Saying President Bush was "afraid of the future," Obama repeatedly criticized the current administration for its handling of the war.
"After all the flawed justifications for his failed policy, recently he invoked Vietnam as a reason to stay in Iraq," Obama said. "Let's put aside the strange reasoning – that all would have been well if we had just stayed the course in Vietnam. Let's put it aside and leave it where it belongs – in the past."
He then continued on the Vietnam theme, making a reference to the last presidential election.
"Now is not the time to reargue the Vietnam War – we did that in the 2004 election, and it wasn't very pretty," he said. "I don't want to fight the battles of the 1960s. I want to reclaim the future for America."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter from 1977 to 1981, introduced Obama and called Iraq a "colonial war in a post-colonial era." He has endorsed Obama and his appearance Wednesday was the first on the candidate's behalf.
John Melvin, a U.S. Army specialist from DeWitt, Iowa, who served in Iraq from September 2003 through April 2004 also spoke before Obama.
"I cannot say that continuing to stay in Iraq is the correct decision," he said. "Bringing our troops home safely and ending the war is not going to be an easy task."