Obama on Terrorism is a Cipher in Pre-Election Months
Obama's probable views on terrorism were ideologically distinct, while blurry on specifics in the early part of the 2008 presidential campaign. He was perceived as left of his primary competitor, Hillary Clinton, and therefore generally understood to have liberal views. Much of the momentum of his campaign came from his anti-Iraq War stance. In the final part of the campaign, he has come out strongly in favor of beefing up the war in Afghanistan and pursuing Al Qaeda.
War on Terrorism:
In the early part of his campaign, Obama funneled many of his comments about the "war on terrorism" through his concerns with human and civil rights issues that it has raised. His campaign website establishes both small weapons proliferation and potential nuclear terrorism as significant U.S. priorities.
Obama responded in strong terms to the passage of the Military Commissions Act in September 2006, which granted the Bush Administration wide latitude to define what would constitute the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He joined critique of the bill's suspension of habeas corpus for potentially innocent detainees with the accusation that the government was not addressing the actual issues:
"…We have Al Qaeda and the Taliban regrouping in Afghanistan while we look the other way. We have a war in Iraq that our own government's intelligence says is serving as Al Qaeda's best recruitment tool. And we have recommendations from the bipartisan 9/11 commission that we still refuse to implement five years after the fact."
Once he all-but-gained the nomination in the early summer of 2008, Obama became much more specific about his objectives regarding the 'war on terror.' In July, Obama told audiences that the war in Afghanistan and the potential of a nuclear Iran were high on his list.
As Obama smoothed his message for a national audience, some commentators began to accuse him of blindly accepting the Bush 'narrative' of a war on terrorism. Robert Scheer argued that:
Barack Obama is betraying his promise of change and is in danger of becoming just another political hack. Yes, just like former maverick John McCain, who has refashioned himself as a mindless rubber stamp for the most inane policies of the miserably failed Bush administration. Both candidates are embracing, rather than challenging, the fundamental irrationality of Bush's "war on terror," which substitutes hysteria for rational analysis in appraising the dangers the country faces.
War in Iraq
Obama's opposition to the Iraq War from its outset is well-known, and the integrity of the stance has made him popular among anti-war voters.
In January, 2007, he introduced to the Senate an Iraq plan called "the Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007." In his remarks introducing the bill to the Senate, Obama proposed a "phased redeployment of U.S. forces" that would conclude in March, 2008 ("redeployment" means that troops will restation on bases in countries near Iraq).
As of July, 2008, Obama's officially announced plan was to have all combat troops removed from Iraq in 16 months, by the summer of 2010. According to his campaign website, residual troops would remain to conduct counterterrorism operations in the country and region, which provides him a considerable amount of slack to permit current defense policy objectives to continue unfolding.
A number of commentators on Obama's Iraq views have observed that the originality of his anti-Iraq war stance has dimmed, since consensus is gathering that a timeline for withdrawal of combat troops is appropriate. Slate argued that, "When you add it all up, McCain and Obama don't think that differently on Iraq."
Obama has staked out a number of homeland security areas of particular focus, in his work as Illinois senator. These include:
- Chemical plant security
- Transit security
- Disaster response
- Terrorism risk insurance
- Nuclear waste
- Drinking water safety
He has introduced and had passed a number of related bills, which have been passed or incorporated into larger legislation. He also seeks greater homeland security grant funding for Chicago.