Sen. Barack Obama, the popular Illinois Democrat who is considering a run for the White House, said Monday that the U.S. should start withdrawing troops from Iraq in the next four to six months, redeploy some forces to Afghanistan and bolster efforts to train Iraqi police.
Obama criticized President Bush for pushing forward with a war that “would require an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”
He also noted that a bipartisan congressional effort was needed to “reassert our authority to oversee the management of this war” and retain better oversight over military expenditures.
He suggested that the U.S. would benefit from improved diplomacy with Iran and Syria and that all withdrawal timetables should be tied to the advice of U.S. commanders on the ground.
“I believe that it remains possible to salvage an acceptable outcome to this long and misguided war,” Obama said to a rapt audience of 1,400 at a meeting of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “But it will not be easy. For the fact is that there are no good options left in this war.”
The speech was similar to one he gave here nearly a year ago. The council has become a stumping ground for politicians wanting to highlight their views on foreign policy.
In 2005, though, only a few hundred curious observers gathered to hear the freshman senator.
“As the size of this crowd attests, the interest in hearing Sen. Obama’s views is now greater, much greater,” council president Marshall M. Bouton told Obama. “So is interest in your possible run for the presidency for the United States of America.”
But Obama avoided addressing that possibility, even when two audience members asked him about it after the speech.
Instead, he focused on the results of the recent midterm elections, describing them as a public repeal of White House policies.The war has created a dangerous culture of global isolationism among Americans, he said.
“We need to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless in pursuing our enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around the world,” Obama said.
A Harvard-educated attorney and longtime Illinois resident who practiced civil rights law, Obama rose to national prominence after delivering an electrifying keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He won the Senate seat that November with 70% of the vote.
Now the 45-year-old junior senator has emerged as a promising presidential candidate that neither the press nor the public can get enough of.
He’s been mobbed by fans while touring to promote his new book, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.” Time magazine put him on its cover, next to a headline that read, “Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President.” Oprah Winfrey said she’d vote for him -- even though he hasn’t announced his intention to run.
Recent polls have showed Obama following Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y) as a favored Democratic presidential nominee, edging out former Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
“On the plus side, Obama’s a fresh face and he’s lived the American dream,” said Dennis Goldford, politics professor at Drake University in Des Moines. “On the down side, it shows how thin the Democratic bench is and the old faces all have a lot of baggage.”
Dozens of people at Monday’s event in the Hilton Chicago clutched copies of Obama’s book. Sharon Russell, an accountant who lives in Gary, Ind., took a vacation day and paid a $100 entrance fee to see him.
“I wanted to have a chance to see the man I think will be our next president in person,” said Russell, 52. “I think he’d make an excellent leader, at a time when this country really needs one.”