CHICAGO – In his first public appearance following his whirlwind overseas trip, Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday praised U.S. troops for reducing violence in Iraq, warned of worsening conditions in Afghanistan and said other nations are eager to see the United States work with them on issues.
It is critical, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said, “that we project ourselves on the world stage with a sense of humility and a sense that we are listening. … We are very clear about our own interests but not so clear about other people’s interests.”
Obama’s remarks came at the close of the Unity ’08 convention, sponsored by a coalition of black, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian journalism organizations. His Republican counterpart, Sen. John McCain, also was invited to speak but declined, citing schedule conflicts.
Obama reiterated that he would have voted against the troop surge in Iraq, even knowing that it is credited by many, including McCain, with the recent reduction in violence. “It is fascinating to me to hear you guys re-emphasize this over and over again,” he said. “I have not heard yet somebody ask John McCain whether his vote to go into Iraq was a mistake.”
Earlier Sunday, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama acknowledged that he had failed to anticipate the sharp decline in attacks in Iraq, but he contended that President Bush and McCain had made the same mistake.
Meanwhile, McCain insisted in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he had not shifted his position against setting a date for U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq, despite comments he made Friday that the 16-month withdrawal plan espoused by Iraq’s prime minister “is a pretty good timetable.”
McCain’s comments were prompted by comments in a CNN interview Friday in which he had been asked to explain why Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki generally supported the 16-month timetable endorsed by Obama.
Al-Maliki “said it’s a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground,” McCain said in the Friday interview, before adding, “I think it’s a pretty good timetable.” Obama’s campaign hailed the comment as a sign that McCain, like al-Maliki, was moving toward the Democrat’s position – even though McCain immediately appeared to modify his remark, referring to “horizons for withdrawal” instead of a timetable and saying a decision would “have to based on conditions on the ground.”
McCain insisted on the ABC program Sunday that he would be flexible about the timing of a troop withdrawal as long as it was justified by improved conditions in Iraq.
“I like six months, three months, two months. I like yesterday. I like yesterday, OK? That seems really good to me. But the fact is, the conditions on the ground have not dictated it,” he said.