A President Barack Obama would support some kind of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act program with oversight by Congress. And Obama is still firmly committed to a pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq in sixteen months. However, his sole “escape clause” from that exit strategy is “guidance and advice of commanders on the ground.”
That’s what Obama’s top campaign spokesman told me last week. At a breakfast for more than forty Washington reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, top Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was fielding questions centered mostly on the certain Democratic presidential nominee’s decision to opt out of public financing in the fall. (If elected over John McCain, Obama would be the first President since Richard Nixon to win the White House solely on private campaign dollars). But Gibbs also took my questions on FISA and the Iraq pullout his candidate has long called for.
“The senator has been quite forceful on the need for a robust surveillance effort,” Gibbs told me, after I pointed out to him that Obama voted against the bipartisan Rockefeller-Bond surveillance legislation last year. “ He has talked repeatedly about making sure somebody watches the watchers. I don’t think you should necessarily trust an Obama Administration anymore than you should trust a Bush Administration or a McCain Administration. He believes that it could be done through the FISA court, that somebody watches the watchers. But I don’t think that there’s any doubt that you have to have a robust surveillance program that meets the technological demands of the 21st Century.” (Gibbs did not elaborate on whether a FISA court should be a special judicial panel dealing exclusively with surveillance or whether it would be in the hands of federal judges).
On Iraq, Gibbs said, “Obviously, Senator Obama will seek the advice and guidance of commanders on the ground in Iraq. But his belief is that we have asked so much of our men and women, so much of our military apparatus, so much of their families, and that unless or until we give the Iraqis a signal that we won’t be there for 100 years, that we’re not going to set up permanent bases, that the type of political reconciliation that was the original intent of the surge isn’t going to take place and isn’t going to take place in any robust way.
“Unless or until you send a firm signal that we are not going to be there forever, it is going to be incapable for the parties to come together to seek political reconciliation to govern their own country.”
So, I asked Gibbs, “there are no circumstances” under which a “President Obama” would not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in sixteen months?
“No,” he replied, voicing the “escape clause” for Obama, “I said originally that he’s going to listen to commanders on the ground, obviously.”
But, Gibbs quickly underscored, “He believes that, as commander-in-chief, he has to set a new mission. He has said often that we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. We can’t do this precipitously and he believes what we have set up is not a precipitous withdrawal.”