Did Obama take cues on Iraq from Tony Rezko and associates?

We’ve commented before on Barack Obama’s evolving positions regarding the Iraq war. Initially a strong opponent of military action in Iraq, by July 2004 Obama was saying that at this stage there was not much difference between his position on the war and that of President Bush. Earlier that year, on April 5, 2004, Obama surprised an interviewer by denying that he had advocated a troop withdrawal. As can be seen below, he stated, “we’ve got to make sure that we secure and execute the rebuilding and reconstruction process effectively and properly and I don’t think we should have an artificial deadline when to do that.”

Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media notes that Obama’s 2004 support for “staying the course” in Iraq can not easily be explained by reference to the success of our mission. By April of that year, Fernandez reminds us, the Iraq campaign had turned quite bloody.

What, then, prompted Obama’s insistence that we resist “artificial” withdrawal dates and finish the job? Fernandez suggests that the explanation may reside in Obama’s relationship with his friend and backer the crooked Tony Rezko, who in April 2004 was attempting to secure multi-million-dollar contracts to build and operate a power plant in Kurdish Iraq. There is evidence that two days before making his statement about staying the course in Iraq, Obama attended a party hosted by Rezko at which Nadhmi Auchi, a London-based Iraqi billionaire, was also present. Auchi, it appears, was Rezko’s main financier and his backing was crucial to enabling Rezko to secure the power plant contracts. According to Fernandez, Obama doesn’t deny attending the party but says he doesn’t recall doing so because it was in the midst of his campaign for the Senate. However, his calendar indicates he had no campaign events that day, and two sources have placed him at the party. (Photographs apparently exist of Auchi meeting Emil Jones, the president of the Illinois state senate and an ally of Obama, but it seems that no such photos of Auchi and Obama have been unearthed).

Obama had wrapped up his party’s nomination for the Senate by April. Frankly, I assumed that Obama tacked towards the “center” on Iraq after securing the nomination to enhance his position in the general election (in April, he was expecting to face Jack Ryan who looked like a credible candidate). But if April 5 is the first date on which Obama expressed his desire that the U.S. remain in Iraq without a withdrawal date — and his interviewer in the video above certainly seems surprised to hear Obama say this — the more tantalizing (but no more cynical) Rezko-connection theory must be considered plausible. Indeed, given Obama’s reference to rebuilding and reconstruction, it seems quite plausible.

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