From NBC's Mark Murray
After McCain on Friday seemed to agree with Obama that 16 months is a "good timetable" for withdrawing from Iraq (as long as it's based on conditions on the ground), the McCain campaign is now arguing that Obama is adopting McCain's position that troop levels in Iraq will be "entirely conditions-based."
"Today, Barack Obama finally abandoned his dangerous insistence on an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by making clear that for the foreseeable future, troop levels in Iraq will be 'entirely conditions based,'" McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said in a statement. "We welcome this latest shift in Sen. Obama's position, but it is obvious that it was only a lack of experience and judgment that kept him from arriving at this position sooner."
But the remark the McCain campaign is jumping on -- from Obama's interview with Newsweek's Richard Wolffe -- pertains to residual forces, not withdrawal from Iraq. From the interview...
Obama: I also think that Maliki recognizes that they're going to need our help for some time to come, as our commanders insist, but that the help is of the sort that is consistent with the kind of phased withdrawal that I have promoted. We're going to have to provide them with logistical support, intelligence support. We're going to have to have a very capable counterterrorism strike force. We're going to have to continue to train their Army and police to make them more effective.
Wolffe: You've been talking about those limited missions for a long time. Having gone there and talked to both diplomatic and military folks, do you have a clearer idea of how big a force you'd need to leave behind to fulfill all those functions?
Obama: I do think that's entirely conditions-based. It's hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now.
Keeping residual forces in and around Iraq is something that Obama has consistently talked about. As Obama told the late Tim Russert at the MSNBC debate in September 2007: "The only troops that would remain [in Iraq] would be those that have to protect U.S. bases and U.S. civilians, as well as to engage in counterterrorism activities in Iraq."