February 27, 2008, 1:33 pm
Obama and McCain Spar Over Iraq
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Senator Barack Obama tangled from afar with Senator John McCain on Wednesday, delivering a spirited retort to Mr. McCain’s mocking suggestion that Mr. Obama was not familiar with the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“I have some news for John McCain,” Mr. Obama said. “There was no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.”
One day after a Democratic debate in Ohio, Mr. Obama presented his economic agenda to voters at a rally at Ohio State University. He challenged Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, with far more aggression than his own rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“I have some news for John McCain,” Mr. Obama said. “He took us into a war along with George Bush that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. They took their eye off the people who are responsible for 9/11, and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that is stronger now than at any time since 2001.”
Mr. Obama was responding to Mr. McCain’s remarks made earlier today in Tyler, Texas. The Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller filed this dispatch from that campaign event:
Mr. McCain sharply criticized Senator Obama for his response to a question in the Democratic debate on Tuesday night about whether he would send withdrawn American troops
back into Iraq to quell an insurrection or civil war. Mr. Obama had said that “I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests,’’ and added that “if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.’’
At a morning town hall-style meeting in Tyler, Mr. McCain opened his remarks by telling the crowd: “I’m not embarrassed to tell you I did not watch the Democrat debate last night, but I am told that Senator Obama made the statement that if Al Qaeda came back to Iraq, after he
withdraws, after the American troops are withdrawn, then he would send military troops back, if Al Qaeda established a base in Iraq.’’
Mr. McCain paused, then added to applause: I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called Al Qaeda in Iraq. My friends, if we left, they wouldn’t be establishing a base. They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, my friends.’’
In Ohio, Mr. Obama opened one of his most aggressive critiques on Mr. McCain that he has delivered to date. For several minutes, Mr. Obama mocked his rival as he attempted to push back on Mr. McCain’s suggestions that he lacked foreign policy experience.
“I’ve been paying attention John McCain,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to a crowd of 7,000 people in the St. John Arena on the campus of Ohio State University. “So John McCain may like to say he likes to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq.”
Mr. Obama added: “I respect John McCain, but he’s tied to the politics of the past – we are about the policies of the future. He’s the party of yesterday–we want to be the party of tomorrow.”
After his rally in Ohio, Mr. Obama was heading to Texas to appeal to voters in advance of the primary on Tuesday.
Elisabeth Bumiller contributed to this post from Texas.