Sen. Barack Obama entered Bill O’Reilly’s “no spin zone” with a surprising concession to his volatile host that the 21,000-strong troop surge in Iraq has been more successful than anyone could have imagined.
Obama was first asked to come on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” in early 2007, and finally made it to the famous hot seat on the last night of the Republican convention.
The interview, which was pre-recorded for broadcast at 8 and 11 p.m., Thursday, tactically bracketed Sen. John McCain’s prime time acceptance speech at the GOP convention.
The wide-ranging chat will air in three more parts after Thursday -- from Monday through Wednesday next week.
As recently as mid-summer, the Democratic presidential candidate declined to outright declare the surge a success, but said it had helped reduce violence in the country. On Thursday, however, Obama acknowledged to O’Reilly that the 2007 increase in U.S. troops has benefited the Iraqi people.
“I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated,” Obama said, while refusing to modify his original opposition to the surge. “I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”
However, he added, the country has not had enough “political reconciliation” and Iraqis still have not taken up full responsibility for their country.
O’Reilly charged that “a lot of people say that Obama is not going to attack Iran” -- even as a “plan B” backup to failed diplomacy.
But with regard to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Obama responded decisively that he would not take military action off the table in dealing with Iran -- but by the same token, diplomacy and sanctions couldn’t be tossed aside.
The Islamic republic is a “major threat” and it would be “unacceptable” for the rogue nation to develop a nuclear weapon, he declared.
“It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon, it would be a game-changer,” Obama said. “It’s sufficient to say I would not take military action off the table and that I will never hesitate to use our military force in order to protect the homeland and the United States’ interests.”
When O’Reilly asked if Obama believed we are fighting a real War on Terror, the candidate replied he “absolutely” believes the United States is fighting such a war, with the enemy being, “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, a whole host of networks that are bent on attacking America, who have a distorted ideology, who have perverted the faith of Islam.”
He repeated, however, his campaign’s foreign policy position that Afghanistan must become the “central front” in the War on Terror.
However, Obama also warned against the current U.S. administration lumping radical Islamic groups together.
“They have fueled a whole host of terrorist organizations,” Obama said of Iran, but “we have to have the ability to distinguish between groups. … They may not all be part and parcel of the same ideology.”
Obama sat down with O’Reilly in York, Pa., after the candidate finished up a town hall style meeting on the economy with voters nearby.
The long-elusive Obama-O’Reilly interview comes after months of behind-the-scenes peacemaking between the candidate and Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
The Illinois senator has been stumping in battleground states since accepting the Democratic presidential nomination last Thursday at his party’s convention in Denver.
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