After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States had the chance to do something good and right, Barack Obama said in a major Iraq policy speech this week. But a failure of leadership and ideas on the part of the Bush administration led us down the wrong path.

“Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives,” Obama emphasized, “spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats — all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

Obama’s reassertion of his plan to end the Iraq war within 16 months of his inauguration is a welcome pledge.

In a July 14 op-ed in The New York Times, Obama sharply contrasted his goal to end the war and bring U.S. troops home with the position of Republican John McCain. The McCain-Bush war plan is a “strategy for staying” in Iraq, Obama wrote.

McCain has called for continuing the occupation of Iraq for 100 years. His efforts to blunt criticism from all quarters by insisting that he would only stay there if U.S. troops were not in harm’s way is belied by the dangerous realities in Iraq, by his own record of pushing for attacking Iraq just two months after 9/11, by his support for the war all along, and by his current attempts to describe changing that policy as surrender or defeatism.

Obama seems to understand that the occupation of Iraq by foreign troops is blocking political reconciliation, and that security and peace in Iraq is a multinational concern that requires a diplomatic surge with all of the region’s countries involved. Further, no social progress in the U.S. can be accomplished while we are spending $10 billion per month on this war.

While it is possible to disagree with some features of Obama’s foreign policy — points that will form the basis of renewed struggle in the event of his victory in November — ending the war in Iraq, shifting to multilateral diplomatic measures and re-engaging the international community in a unified and necessary struggle against real problems of terrorism (which have been fueled by the Bush-McCain policies) are points on which we can find no fault.