Friday, September 5, 2008



By Kim Chipman and Julianna Goldman
Thu Sep 4, 2008

Barack Obama said the surge of American forces in Iraq has ``succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,'' though Iraqis still haven't done enough to take responsibility for their country.

``The surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated,'' Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, said in a recorded interview broadcast tonight on Fox News's ``The O'Reilly Factor'' program.

Obama has come under repeated criticism from Republican rival John McCain for opposing President George W. Bush's decision last year to send 20,000 extra combat troops to Iraq. While Obama said before that the additional forces have damped insurgent violence, his comments on the program were some of the strongest he's made on the issue.

The Illinois senator, who has promised to pull most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months if he's elected president, repeated today his call for Iraqis to take more control of their own nation.

``Understand this, the argument was and continues to be when are we going to turn over responsibility to the Iraqis for their own country,'' Obama said during a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

McCain's Night

Obama's interview aired on the same night that Arizona Senator McCain gave his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

McCain, 72, has argued that the Iraqi government needed a substantial and sustained increase in troops to help establish its own security authority throughout the country.

``I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do,'' McCain said tonight.

Obama, who has made his early opposition to the Iraq War a key part of his campaign, was among Democrats in Congress who spoke out against the troop increase and predicted it would fail to end the violence.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst on Middle East security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, today challenged Obama's remarks that ``nobody'' expected the surge to succeed so well.

``There was a very clear military plan that set clear goals,'' Cordesman said. Success wasn't ``a certainty, but it also certainly wasn't by any stretch of the imagination something based on dreams and goals that nobody could have anticipated would succeed.''

Most Violent

Anbar province, once Iraq's most violent region, experienced on average two attacks a day in the four months ending May 31, according to the U.S. Defense Department's June 30 quarterly assessment of Iraq.

For the four-month period ending Nov. 10, 2006, before Bush ordered the troop surge, Anbar experienced an average of about 41 attacks a day, the highest in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

Bush, in announcing the troop surge in January 2007, said the Iraqi government by November 2007 would take responsibility for all 18 provinces. On Sept. 1, Bush said Iraqi authorities had taken over security control in Anbar.

Obama today defended his opposition to the surge when pressed by O'Reilly to say he was ``wrong.''

``There's an underlying problem with what we've done,'' Obama replied. ``We have reduced the violence, but the Iraqis still haven't taken responsibility.''


Obama has appeared 10 times this year on the News Corp.- owned cable station's interview shows. Today marks Obama's first appearance on ``The O'Reilly Factor,'' the highest-rated cable- news program.

The first-term senator was also asked about Iran, Pakistan and capturing Osama bin Laden.

Obama said he ``absolutely'' believed the U.S. is in a war against terrorism and identified the enemies as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ``a whole host of networks that are bent on attacking America who have a distorted ideology.''

Iran also is a ``major threat,'' he said, though warned against the danger of lumping different groups together as a common foe.

Obama said it would be ``unacceptable'' for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. ``It would be game -changer,'' he said. ``I would never take a military option off the table.''

Military Force

When pressed as to whether, if elected, he would prepare for possible use of military force against Iran, Obama, who has repeatedly called for greater diplomatic efforts with Iran, said it wouldn't be ``appropriate'' for someone who might become president to start ``tipping their hand in terms of what their plans might be with respect'' to the country.

Obama said he ratchet up pressure on Pakistan to take a more aggressive approach toward weeding out terrorists, including bin Laden.

Right now, Obama said, Pakistan is using U.S. military resources ``with no strings attached.''

``They are preparing for war against India,'' he said.

Obama, 47, said the Bush administration ``wasted'' $10 billion with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who was forced to resign last month after 17 months of political protests and violence. The U.S. failed to hold him ``accountable for knocking out those safe havens'' for terrorists, Obama said.

Reaching an Audience

Obama's appearance on the O'Reilly show came as the presidential contender is wooing independents and Republicans. Fox is a good venue because many swing voters watch, and the network likely would have high viewership during the Republican convention, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said.

``It makes sense to talk to all of your audience,'' Gibbs said. While some Democratic candidates criticized Fox's primary- campaign coverage, Gibbs said ``we think we can get a fair shake.''

Fox News topped this week's ratings with its Republican convention coverage, beating Time Warner Inc.'s CNN and NBC Universal's MSNBC. About 9.2 million viewers tuned in to Fox last night to hear a speech from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The night marked Fox's highest-rated convention telecast ever in cable news and the third-biggest audience since Fox News began in 1996, according to the network.

The interview with Obama followed a meeting earlier this summer between Obama and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who built Fox into a top-rated news channel in less than a decade, and Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News.

Obama, who resisted for almost a year O'Reilly's calls to appear on the program, expressed concern in the meeting about the coverage he was receiving on the channel, according to the Washington Post.

Ailes says he told Obama that Fox wasn't boycotting or retaliating against him, the newspaper said.