This morning on Today, Barack Obama offered a vigorous defense of his troop withdrawal proposal, as well as a critique of the administration's Iraq War policy. Similar to his rival Hillary Clinton's appearance on Morning Joe, he refrained from mentioning or furthering a dispute with her, preferring to stay on the offensive against McCain and Bush's Iraq war policy in general.
VIEIRA: You've said when, Senator, that if you are elected, that within 16 months you are going to bring all the troops home from Iraq. Senator McCain said yesterday that is a reckless promise you cannot possibly keep, a failure of leadership. And even military leaders say any withdrawal of troops would be dictated by security on the ground. So how can you guarantee you can pull out those troops in just 16 months?
OBAMA: Meredith, I've been very consistent in saying that we are going to set a timetable and we will have a prudent pace of withdrawal, one to two brigades per month. At that pace, we can have combat troops out within approximately 16 months. That will be about two years from now, Meredith, which means that this war will have lasted seven years.
VIEIRA: That's if everything goes well, sir. What if there's chaos?
OBAMA: Meredith, there's the possibility of chaos right now as we saw in Basra. So, what we can do is we can stay there in perpetuity. But if we can't have the Iraqi government resolve some of its conflicts in seven years, we won't have it done in 14 years or 21 years. The height of irresponsibility was going in, in the first place, and not having these questions answered, as John McCain ratified and went along with. I think it compounds the irresponsibility if all we're doing is simply moving the goalpost. We won't leave because violence is up. Now we don't leave because violence is down, as we've made progress. And the notion that we would have a long-term occupation of Iraq is not only unsustainable from our military's perspective and our financial perspective - we're spending $400 million a day - it's also distracting us from going after al Qaeda and those who actually perpetrated the deaths of 3,000 Americans on September 11th.
Vieira also asked Obama to respond to Frank Rich's column from last Sunday, in which he wrote:
Really, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for libeling John McCain. As a growing chorus reiterates, their refrains that Mr. McCain is "willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq" (as Mr. Obama said) or "willing to keep this war going for 100 years" (per Mrs. Clinton) are flat-out wrong.
Obama disputed Rich's characterization of the matter: "What John McCain was saying was that he was happy to have a potential long-term occupation in Iraq. Happy may be overstating it. He is willing to have a long-term occupation in Iraq, as long as 100 years, or 10,000 years, there's no end in sight, because John McCain has not offered any clear point at which he suggests it's time for us to move our troops home."