Barack Obama on The War in Iraq

Last Updated : Sep 10, 2012


Barack Obama was against the war in Iraq since it's inception, refering to it as a "dumb war" and repeatedly stated that we should be as "careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting into it".  He has asserted that his position was that an invasion would embolden extremism and distract from the war on terror. This opposition goes as far back as 2002 and extends through the entirety of the 2008 election. As part of his presidential campaign, Senator Obama pledged repeatedly to withdraw forces at a pace of 1-2 brigades per month and to have all troops out within 16 months. This withdraw strategy was mirrored in legislation that Senator Obama voted for and co-sponsored. After assuming office, President Obama abandoned the previous withdraw plan and followed a plan set up by President Bush in the Iraqis in late 2008. President Obama sought to keep troops past that timeline, but conflict over the status of forces agreement prevented troops from remaining past 2011.

Record Prior to the Senate

In October of 2002 - months before the war began in Iraq - State Senator Obama opposed possible action there. He stated that while he did not oppose all wars, he opposed a dumb war. Later that year, he stated in an interview that he opposed going to war in Iraq unilaterally, and asked what it would mean to remain in Iraq long term and attempt to nation build there. In a 2004 interview, State Senator Obama was running for the Illinois Senate seat and stated that he would have voted against the Iraq war resolution had he been in office.

Record as a Senator

As a US Senator, Barack Obama twice voted against the surge strategy in Iraq. He also voted in favor of a resolution to require troops to remain at home a given amount of time before being redeployed to Iraq. In March of 2007, Senator Obama voted in favor of a resolution to require redeployment of troops from Iraq to begin within 90 days. In September of 2007, he also voted in favor of and co-sponsored a resolution to require the removal of troops from Iraq to start within 90 days.

2008 Election Campaign

During the 2008 election, Senator Obama repeatedly called for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Numerous times, President Obama stated that he would call the military leaders into his office on the first day of his Presidency and give them the order to withdraw from Iraq. He asserted that his plan would call for the withdrawal of 1-2 brigades per month and take approximately 16 months to complete. This would have removed the troops from Iraq around May of 2010, and was a repeated theme of the 2008 election.

Senator Obama's campaign put out a blueprint of how to address Iraq. That blueprint stated that: Obama's decisions could be trusted as he opposed the war from the beginning; that he would end the war on his first day in office; that he supported a 16 month withdraw; that some forces would be left behind to address training of Iraqis and protection of diplomates; that $2 billion would be committed to Iraq in the future; and that no permanent forces would remain in Iraq.

The Surge

Senator Obama initially opposed the surge on the grounds that it would not succeed in it's goal to quell the violence in Iraq, and on the grounds that it would not move the Iraqis to stand on their own and take responsibility for the security of their country.  Before, during, and just after the surge, Senator Obama asserted that he believed that it would fail, was failing, and had failed.  As time passed, Senator Obama admitted that it was indeed successful in reducing the level of violence in Iraq.  Senator Obama also claimed to have expressed views prior to the surge that it would be successful in diminishing the violence.

Timetables for Withdraw

As noted in his blueprint and campaign literature, Senator Obama supported timetables for withdraw from Iraq and put forth a plan to remove troops within 16 months. This plan to tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff to end the war on the first day and pull all the troops out was repeated over and over agains, asserting that when he promised that he was gonna bring the war in Iraq to a close in 2009, the American people should understand that he opposed the war in 2002, 2003, 4, 5, 6, and 7. So he was serious about ending the war.

In 2004, State Senator Obama stated that he had never said that troops should be withdrawn, but rather that we should secure and execute the rebuilding and reconstruction process effectively and properly, and we should not have an artificial deadline of when to do that. In 2006, he asserted that a hard and fast arbitrary deadline for withdraw offers our commanders in the field and our diplomats in the region insufficient flexibility to implement that strategy.

Record as President

Under President Obama, the number of troops in Iraq were withdrawn from about 140,000 when he took office to roughly 50,000 troops in September of 2010. The number of troops remained at this level for roughly another year while President Obama attempted to negotiate a new status of forces agreement between the US and the Iraqi government. President Bush negotiated an agreement with the Iraqis after the 2008 elections to remove all troops by the end of 2011, but many expected that agreement to be renegotiated later. 

Although President Obama wanted to keep those troops in Iraq, when negotiations failed to produce a new agreement, the remaining US troops were pulled out at the end of 2011. Roughly 3,000 troops remained in the country to protect diplomats and train Iraqis. Roughly 5,000 private security contractors also remain in the country.

The chart below shows the number of troops in Iraq throughout the entire war, along with the troops in Afghanistan and the plan put forth by Senator Obama during the 2008 election.


Early Opposition to the War in Iraq

In addition to Senator Obama's declared positions on Iraq, there are a number of speeches and debate questions which show his initial opposition to the war. On October 26, 2002 at an anti-war rally in Chicago Illinois, State Senator Barack Obama made the following statements:


On November 15, 2002 State Senator Obama appeared on the Jeff Berkowitz show where he made the following remarks:


In an interview on the Charlie Rose show on November 24, 2004 Senator-elect Barack Obama re-affirmed his opposition to the war.


2008 Campaign Appearances

At a campaign rally in 2007, Senator Obama made the following statements which re-iterated his position on Iraq. He used the term "tragic mistake" to describe the war, and made the claim that he had a plan that would have all "combat" troops home by March of 2008. This claim caused controversy later as most people took the remarks to apply to all troops.


On July 3, 2008 in a press conference in Fargo, North Dakota, Senator Obama gave more details about his Iraqi withdrawal plan. He also firmly reiterated his desire to end the war in Iraq, and he described the timetable for withdrawal from Iraq as 1-2 brigades per month and being accomplished in 16 months. This timeline agreed with the blueprint.


Blueprint for Iraq

Senator Obama's campaign produced a series of videos on all subjects which outlined his position and plans for a number of areas.  The "blueprint" for Iraq gave the following bullets which showed Senator Obama's position on the Iraq.

  • Judgement you can trustrn
    • opposed Iraq war from the beginning
    •  warned that:rn
      • invasion would embolden extremism
      • distract from fight against terrorism
  • A responsible phased withdrawalrn
    • Push Iraqi leaders to political solutions
    • Rebuild our military
    • Refocus on Afghanistan and broader security threats
    • Safely redeploy forces in 16 months
    • Keep residual forces forrn
      • specific missions
      • target Al-Qaeda
      • protect diplomats
      • training Iraqi forces
  • Lasting stability in Iraqrn
    • True success is leaving Iraq to a government that rn
      • prevents sectarian conflict
      • blocks Al-Qaeda reemergence
  • Prevent humanitarian crisisrn
    • Commit $2B to support +4M displace Iraqis
    • Forge coalition to support Iraqi future
    • Make clear: no permanent bases in Iraq

The blueprint highlighted some of the statements that Senator Obama was making throughout the campaign and coalesced several of the talking points into a 2 minute video.  The dialogue of that video gives Senator Obama's views not only of the war as a whole, but also of phased redeployment and number of troops to remain in Iraq.


Statements supportive of a timetable for withdrawal

Throughout most of the campaign in 2008, Senator Obama strongly advocated for a withdrawal from Iraq based on a timetable of 1 to 2 brigades per month, as seen in the blueprint and the video above.  He estimated that this pace would have all "combat troops" out of Iraq in 16 months, and he stated that he would give this order on his first day in office.  On July 15, 2008, only days after the previous statements indicating that he would end the war on his first day in office, Senator Obama again reinforced this view on Iraq.  He also noted that a victory in Iraq cannot be defined by a large surrender of enemy arms, but by the turning over of the Iraqi government to it's people.


As stated, Senator Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq was a result of the inability to define goals for the war and a belief that long term occupation of Iraq would be harmful to US interests. He stressed in his campaign literature (seen at the bottom of the page) and in speeches that there is no military solution to the war in Iraq and that the only solution was to force the Iraqis to take control of their own security. In a campaign speech in September of 2007, Senator Obama made the following statements:


The timetable of 1 to 2 brigades per month was one that was promoted heavily throughout the 2008 presidential campaign.  Earlier in the campaign (Dec 2007), Senator Obama promoted this view and again stated that on the first day he will call in the joint chiefs of staff and tell them to end the war in Iraq.  He also stated that we would not have permanent bases in Iraq and the only military missions he would allow were to protect the embassy and to perform targeted strikes to counter any terrorist threats.


At a campaign event on March 19, 2008 Senator Obama again re-iterated both his promise to immediately begin withdrawing troops and his promise to withdraw them at a rate of 1-2 brigades per month.


At another campaign event on May 2, 2008 Senator Obama again re-iterated his promises of immediate withdrawal:

 On his campaign website, Senator Obama stated that the pace of withdraw would be the stated 1-2 brigades per month and that this would give a completion date of summer 2010.


Statements against the timetable for withdrawal

 On April 5, 2004 State Senator Obama was campaigning for the US Senate position and made the following statements on a local chicago morning television show.


On June 21, 2006 on the Senate floor, Senator Obama made the following statements against a timetable.


Congressional Limitation of Troops

In December of 2007, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe and asked about the ability of a President to disregard troop limitations put in place by Congress.


Failure to apply timeline

Despite moving some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, the immediate order to withdraw and the pace of 1-2 brigades per month was not enforced after President Obama assumed office.  The chart below shows the number of troops in Iraq since 2005 and the blue are indicates the surge.



The Surge

The surge was a strategy put in place by the Bush administration which temporarily sent a large contingent of forces to Iraq in an effort to both quell the violence in the region, and convince the Iraqis that the Americans were in the was for the long haul.  A timeline for the surge is shown below.

  • January 10, 2007 - President Bush announces the surge strategy  stating: "I’ve committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.”
  • February 16, 2007 - The House of Representatives passes a resolution opposing Bush’s troop surge by a vote of 246-182
  • February 17, 2007 - The government of Iraq and coalition forces announce operation Fardh Al Qanoon (Enforcing the Law).  This is the first of the operations that peak in the summer and constituted the bulk to the surge strategy.
  • March 2, 2007 - The Pentagon states that 7,000 more troops will be sent to Iraq.
  • April 26, 2007 - Senate approves Iraq withdrawal bill
  • June 15, 2007 - The troop surge operations with US troops begin. The U.S. military reports that 28,000 troops required for the surge have arrived in Iraq
  • September 11, 2007 - US troops surge hits peak of 168,000
  • November 24, 2007 - US troop surge is officially declared over


Statements opposing the surge

President Obama's view of the surge can be seen from two aspects: would it accomplish its objective to quell violence and would it aid in accomplishing victory.  President Obama's made a number of statements on the surge strategy and was initially very clear that he felt it would not quell violence in Iraq and may even increase violence.  He also stated number times that it would not contribute to the larger goal of getting the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security.

On January 10, 2007 (the day that the surge was officially announced) in an interview on MSNBC, Senator Obama said the following:



Days later, on January 14, 2007 in an interview on CBS, Senator Obama reiterated his belief that the surge strategy would not work.


In July of 2008, as troop numbers increased in Iraq major operations were at their height, Senator Obama appeared on the Today show and asserted that the surge was failing and the report on progress in Iraq would show that.


In July of 2008, Senator Obama appeared on "Meet the Press" and again stated that the surge was not working.  He reiterated that not only was the situation not improving, but there the possibility that it could worsen.


Statements supportive of the surge

In the months following the conclusion of the surge, Senator Obama backed away from his position that it was not working and given the evidence at hand, noted that the surge had indeed accomplished it's goal of reducing violence.  In an CNN debate on February 21, 2008 Senator Obama noted this reduction of violence:

On April 8, 2008 in testimony on the Senate floor, Senator Obama again noted that the surge had reduced violence

While these statements noting the reduction in violence in Iraq due to the surge were a result of the data presented in the months after the surge, on January 5, 2008 Senator Obama took his support for the surge a little farther and seemed to contradict his previous statements when he made the following statements on ABC:


Months later, Senator Obama gave a number of interviews and admitted that the surge had indeed accomplished its goal of reducing violence.  On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Senator Obama was asked about the success of the surge and had the following conversation with Mr. Stephanopoulos.


In September of 2008, Senator Obama gave and interview to Bill O'Reilly and made the following statements:

The video below shows a compilation of some of the statements made by Senator Obama concerning the surge and the timeline for withdrawal.  It was an anti-Obama ad using the conflicting statements described above.



Number of troops to remain in Iraq

Senator Obama has stated in multiple speeches (seen above) and in campaign literature that there will not be a permanent military base in Iraq.  he has stated that there will only be enough troops to guard the embassy and to perform strikes on terrorist targets.  When pressed for how many this would be and what the criteria would be to pull them out, Senator Obama recanted and stated that there would be only embassy personnel.  From a video shown above, Senator Obama made the following statement in December of 2007.

On March 19, 2008, Senator Obama re-affirmed this plan:

In a press conference later that month (3-31-08), Senator Obama recanted on the strike force:


End of Combat Operations

On August 31, 2010 President Obama gave an address from the Oval office to state that combat operations were over in Iraq.


2008 Campaign Website Statements

This is a direct capture of Senator Obama's campaign website representing the section on the war in Iraq.  It is shown here to provide context.


White Statements

Under the defense portion of the issues section of, the following remarks are made on the war in Iraq.


Voting Record

Phased Redeployment

On March 15, 2007, S J Res 9 was put forth in an attempt to convince President Bush to commit to timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The bill was titled "United States Policy in Iraq Resolution of 2007 - Phased Redeployment" and called upon the President to begin the withdrawal of troops from Iraq within 120 days of the enactment of the legislation, and to have all troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. The bill was defeated on roll call 75, which was largely among partisan lines with 1 Republican joining the Democrats and 3 Democrats joining the rest of the Republicans. Barack Obama voted in favor of the phased redeployment plan.

Barack Obama voted in favor of the phased redeployment plan.

Approval of the Surge Strategy

The second piece of legislation was S 574, and it came up for a vote on February 17 and had two main points of emphasis : the Senate continued to support the troops already on the ground in Iraq; and the Senate disapproved of the President\'s surge strategy. The bill only got 56 of the 60 votes required for cloture. 7 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation while only 1 Democrat sided with the Republicans. 10 Senators cast a "No Vote" (9 R and 1 D). (roll call) Barack Obama voted in favor of the legislation by voting for cloture. This was a vote against the surge strategy in Iraq

Barack Obama voted in favor of the legislation by voting for cloture. This was a vote against the surge strategy in Iraq

Approval of the Surge Strategy

On January 10, 2007, President Bush announced a "surge" strategy in which 20,000 additional troops would be sent to Iraq to bolster the troops already there. In February of 2007, the US Senate voted on two bills with the purposes of expressing the Senate\'s disapproval of this strategy. S 470 was the first such piece of legislation, and it came up for a vote on the Senate floor on February 5, 2007. Along with expressing the disapproval of the Senate towards the President\'s recently announced strategy, the bill also outlined a series of strategy suggestions for the President. These suggestions included the transfer of equipment to Iraqi officials, the continuing of operations in the Anbar province, and numerous other items. The bill only got 49 of the 60 votes required for cloture. Only 2 members of each party voted with the opposing party with almost all Democrats voting to disapprove the surge and almost all Republicans voting to approve of the strategy by refusing to allow the legislation a cloture vote. (roll call 44). Barack Obama voted in favor of S470 (disapproved of the surge) by voting for cloture.

Barack Obama voted in favor of S470 (disapproved of the surge) by voting for cloture.

To provide for a reduction and transition of United States forces in Iraq

In September of 2007, the Senate voted on an amendment by Senator Levin to require that all troops begin to be withdrawn within 90 days. The amendment also stated that the troops remaining in Iraq would only be there for the purposes of protecting US personnel and infrastructure. Barack Obama voted in favor of withdrawing the troops from Iraq.

Barack Obama voted in favor of withdrawing the troops from Iraq.

Dwell Time

In September of 2007, the Senate voted on a measure to require US servicemen be stationed at home for an amount of time equal to their deployment time. The measure received a majority of votes, but not the number required to pass. Barack Obama voted in favor of the measure to require equal dwell time.

Barack Obama voted in favor of the measure to require equal dwell time.

Contract Award Overview

Later in the year, the same amendment was introduced into the Senate by Senator Dorgan. This amendment has the same purpose and failed to achieve the needed votes by a simlar margin. Barack Obama voted to support the amendment to create the special committee.

Barack Obama voted to support the amendment to create the special committee.

Contract Award Overview

In 2005, a series of accidents at military bases in Iraq which were built by US contractors such as Halliburton, prompted Congress to call for investigations into the awarding of contracts. There were two ammendments introduced to separate pieces of legislation to attempt to accomplish the goal of investigating the contract awards process. roll call 228 concerned the Dorgan amendment, and was the first attempt to establish a special committee on the awarding of contracts in Iraq. The amendment failed by a narrow margin in a 53-44 vote. Barack Obama voted to support the amendment to create the special committee.

Barack Obama voted to support the amendment to create the special committee.


Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

Session-110; Bill Number-S J Res 9; United States Policy in Iraq Resolution of 2007 - Cosponsor

Directs the President to begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq within 120 days of enactment of this joint resolution with the goal of redeploying by March 31, 2008, all U.S. combat forces from Iraq, except for a limited number essential for protecting U.S. and coalition personnel and infrastructure, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations. Requires the President to transition the U.S. forces' mission in Iraq promptly to such purposes. States that such redeployment shall be implemented as part of a diplomatic, political, and economic strategy that includes sustained engagement with Iraq's neighbors and the international community in order to bring stability to Iraq. Directs the President, not later than 60 days after enactment of this Act and every 90 days thereafter, to report to Congress on the progress made in such mission transition and force redeployment.

Session-110; Bill Number-S 1825; Commission on Wartime Contracting Establishment Act - Cosponsor

A bill to provide for the study and investigation of wartime contracts and contracting processes in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and for other purposes.

Session-110; Bill Number-S 2426; Congressional Oversight of Iraq Agreements Act of 2007 - Cosponsor

A bill to provide for congressional oversight of United States agreements with the Government of Iraq.


[1] Website: Boston Globe Article: Barack Obama's Q&A Author: Charlie Savage Accessed on: 03/23/2011

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