- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008


President-elect Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. is now “on a glide path” to have all combat troops out of Iraq 16 months after he takes office, but continued to leave wiggle room that vexes antiwar voters.

In his first extensive public comments on Iraq since winning the election, Mr. Obama said he will make good on his campaign promise to give the military a new mission to end the Iraq war “responsibly,” though he added that the deadline could shift depending on both U.S. troops’ and Iraqis’ security.

“I believe that 16 months is the right time frame,” Mr. Obama said after announcing his national security team that includes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state andDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has overseen military gains in Iraq under President Bush.

“But as I have said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders. And my number one priority is making sure that our troops remain safe in this transition phase and that the Iraqi people are well served by a government that is taking on increased responsibility for its own security.”

Antiwar groups found him too timid, saying Mr. Obama always has left room for keeping troops in Iraq longer than many voters have anticipated.

“There’s a lot of disappointment on the part of the peace movement,” said Barbra Bearden, spokeswoman for the national group Peace Action, which has started a “No soldier left behind” program to pressure Mr. Obama to fully remove troops.

Mr. Obama on Monday also tapped for his team retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones to be his national security adviser, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be homeland security secretary, Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general, and Susan Rice to be ambassador to the United Nations.

The president-elect has clashed with both Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton over Iraq and other foreign-policy priorities, and some observers said he was abandoning his pledge for change by asking them to be part of his administration.

“Obama’s decision to turn to a cadre of insiders who refused to speak out against the Iraq war before it began, and who have since deflected calls to end the mission in a timely fashion, suggests that we will only get more of the same,” said Christopher Preble, director of foreign-policy studies for the Cato Institute.

Miss Bearden of Peace Action said antiwar groups have always been skeptical about Mr. Obama’s plans to end the war since he “never fully addressed the ideas of permanent bases, or residual troops, or how reconstruction or diplomatic efforts will be handled, all of which involve troops on the ground.”

“The devil is in the details; he has been vague on when his withdrawal date would be,” she said.

But others who have long called for troop reductions withheld criticism, saying Mr. Obama will deliver the change he promised and that any withdrawal is a good start for troops who have served multiple tours.

Mr. Obama said the status of forces agreement passed by the Iraqi parliament last week “points us in the right direction” for a withdrawal of troops. The agreement calls for U.S. forces to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

Mr. Obama has said he would consider leaving a “residual force” of U.S. troops to provide training for Iraqi security forces or to protect U.S. civilians in Iraq.

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