WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday U.S. combat forces should be out of Iraq by spring 2008 to end “a foreign policy disaster,” but he stopped short of endorsing a cutoff in funds.
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The Illinois senator introduced a bill to force the redeployment under law, but that’s unlikely while Bush is president. Still, Obama said he’s taking Bush up on his challenge to critics to offer alternatives.
“It is important at this point that Congress offer specific constructive approaches to what’s proven to be a foreign policy disaster,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press, “because we’ve got too much at stake to simply stand on the sidelines and criticize.”
Obama’s bill would cap troop levels in Iraq at the early January level of around 130,000, when Bush announced he would send 21,500 additional U.S. forces to Iraq. It would require that troops begin coming home on May 1 with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008.
Asked to respond to Obama’s plan, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: “Any plan that sets arbitrary troop caps or begins to pull troops out of Baghdad before the city is secure will not lead to the political reconciliation we all agree is necessary for Iraq to be a stable democracy.”
Some Democratic rivals such as John Edwards and Tom Vilsack have called on lawmakers to withhold funds for the additional troops.
“If we simply cut off funding without any structure for how a redeployment takes place, then you could genuinely have a Constitutional crisis or at least a crisis on the ground where the president continues to send troops there but now they’re being shortchanged in terms of armaments and support,” Obama said.
Some legal scholars question whether Congress has the authority to bring troops home because the president has control of military forces.
Obama noted that he taught constitutional law for 10 years and rejected the notion that the congressional authorization for war in 2002 gives Bush “carte blanche to proceed in any way.”
“The notion that as a consequence of that authorization, the president can continue down a failed path without any constraints from Congress whatsoever is wrong and is not warranted by our Constitution,” Obama said in a 10-minute telephone call.
Obama said troops should be sent to three locations — home to the United States, in countries around Iraq to prevent regional conflict and to Afghanistan, which he said is in danger of falling back to the Taliban.
The bill also would place conditions on economic aid to Iraq and would allow for a temporary suspension of the redeployment if the Iraqis meet security, political and economic benchmarks.
Obama said he thinks his bill could get bipartisan support, but he doesn’t have any co-sponsors yet.
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