The Politics of Ending U.S. Combat Role in Iraq

Obama today affirms plan to transition in August

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President Obama will give a speech today reaffirming his plan to formally end U.S. combat operations in Iraq on August 31, shifting the focus of the U.S. mission to withdrawal and the burden of Iraqi security to Iraqis. Since the U.S.-led invasion over seven years ago, more than 4,400 American soldiers have died in the war that determined much of the 2006 and 2008 U.S. elections. Here's what people are saying in advance of Obama's speech on the war and its planned end.

  • The Withdrawal Plan  Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating lays it out. "Under the current withdrawal plan, which the president says is on track, the American force will shrink to 50,000 troops by the end of August, down from 144,000. These remaining 'advise and assist' troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011," he writes. "The White House has pointed out that the total number of U.S. troops on the ground in both wars has declined from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of this month."
  • For Obama, All Going as Hoped  The New York Times' Peter Baker writes, "While most public attention these past months has focused on Mr. Obama’s expansive and hotly disputed domestic agenda, the military has quietly been making progress toward the goal that first animated his campaign for the presidency: pulling out of Iraq. ... While he has gone months without mentioning the war much in public as he focused on tightening regulation of the financial industry and stopping the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the president is now trying to remind Americans of one of his most important, if largely unheralded decisions."
  • Mission Accomplished? Yes and No  Washington Post's Michael Shear explains, "The speech is intended to help Obama check off another of the major promises he made during the campaign, and shortly after becoming commander-in-chief. Barely a month after he took office, he told a military audience at Camp Lejeune: 'Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.' White House officials are very wary of echoing Bush's pronouncement of: 'mission accomplished,' especially given the ongoing political turmoil and potential for violence in Iraq. Instead, in his speech, Obama will remind Americans that thousands of troops will remain in the country as a 'transitional force' for years, and will likely face danger. 'The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq,' the president will say."
  • Does Iraq Still Matter for Democratic Politics?  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes, "In a measure of how much things have changed since Obama took office, the president plans to deliver a big speech today underscoring that he's making good on his pledge to pull out of Iraq -- and it's anybody's guess whether it will have any meaningful political impact. The White House is hoping that Obama's delivery on such a major promise will, you know, matter a bit to people. Public anxiety over Iraq was powerful enough to help decide a presidential election less than two years ago. But now, amazingly, it's unclear how powerful a motivator this will be even for Democratic base voters."
  • Many Dems Still Skeptical  The Washington Independent's Jesse Zwick points out that Iraq is still at a political impasse. "House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who’s had to contend with an increasingly discontented Democratic caucus — 102 House Democrats voted against the most recent war funding bill last week — said Americans would not be satisfied with a mere symbolic show. 'Well, I hope it is more than that,' she told ABC’s This Week. 'I know it’s not going to be, ‘Turn out the lights and let’s all go home on one day.’ But I do think the American people expect it to be somewhere between that and a few thousand troops.'"
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