During a policy speech on Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama said a “single-minded” focus on the Iraq war is distracting the United States from other threats, including the ongoing battle in Afghanistan.
“As president, I will make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be,” Obama said. “This is a war that we have to win.”
In his speech, Obama also prioritized securing nuclear weapons from terrorists and rogue states, achieving energy security and rebuilding alliances around the world.
Obama and Sen. John McCain have been starkly divided in their approached to Iraq war policy and in their opinions of last’ year’s troop surge. Obama continued to criticize McCain’s position on Tuesday.
“As should have been apparent to President Bush and Sen. [John] McCain — the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was,” Obama said during his address at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
Obama will travel with a congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan later this month.
The Illinois senator’s speech reiterated many of the points he made in an opinion piece in the New York Times on Monday, laying out his plans for the Middle East, including adding 7,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan, while ending the war in Iraq in a responsible manner.
“On my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war,” Obama wrote.
McCain responded to Obama’s speech at a campaign event in New Mexico Tuesday, calling it naive and premature.
“He is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time,” McCain said. He also used the opportunity to voice his own strategy for Afghanistan, which would involve a similar troop increase as the one used in Iraq.
McCain’s campaign has suggested in the past Obama is wavering on his pledge to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.
In early July, Obama said during a press conference he would “refine” his Iraq policies after he consulted with U.S. generals when he takes his trip to Iraq.
The McCain campaign seized on his words, saying he has backing away from his pledge to remove troops.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said, “Today, Barack Obama reversed that position, proving once again that his words do not matter.”
The incident caused Obama to hold another press conference to clarify his remarks and reiterate that he does intend to end the war. As the words continue to fly between the two candidates, new polling shows that neither has a solid lead on the issue.
In a poll published Monday by ABC News, Americans were virtually tied in their support for McCain’s and Obama’s Iraq polices.
Obama had 50 percent of the support on his Iraq plan, while McCain had 49 percent.
“Americans divide evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain’s approaches to the war in Iraq, and rate McCain much more highly on his abilities as commander-in-chief — key reasons the unpopular war isn’t working more to Obama’s advantage,” polling director Gary Langer wrote.