FARGO, N.D. – Democrat Barack Obama emphasized Thursday that he might revise his proposed timetable for pulling U.S. combat troops from Iraq, saying he needed to consult with U.S. commanders and do a “thorough assessment of the situation.”
The comments at a news conference here seemed to be a shift in focus by Obama, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war.
In the past, Obama has stressed his plan to begin a withdrawal immediately and complete it within 16 months, although he also has carefully hedged, leaving the option of taking more time – and leaving more troops – if events require.
Thursday, he did not explicitly say he would stick to the 16-month timetable. On his Web site, he says flatly that he will “have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.”
At the news conference, Obama was asked whether he now advocates a slower timetable, but he insisted that his position hasn’t changed.
“I’ve always said that I would listen to commanders on the ground,” Obama said. “I’ve always said the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed.”
He added that his timeline was always contingent on keeping the troops safe.
“I said that based on the information that we had received from our commanders that one to two brigades a month could be pulled out safely from a logistical perspective,” he said. “And my guiding approach continues to be that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable.”
Still, the Republican National Committee quickly seized on his comments as evidence of flip-flopping.
“There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience,” spokesman Alex Conant said.