The Politics of Obama's Iraq Speech

Peace with honor?

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President Barack Obama will give a 15-minute televised address tonight to mark the formal conclusion of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Though 50,000 troops will remain in a de facto combat role, the U.S. will take a less prominent role in Iraqi security and reconstruction following the 2003 invasion, which Obama famously opposed as a senator. As with everything in Washington, the event is as much about politics as anything else. Here are the politics of Obama's address and his Iraq policy--and the political response of the Republicans hoping to unseat as many Democrats as possible in November.

  • Where He Is and Isn't Taking Credit The New York Times' Helene Cooper writes, "Mr. Obama's address tonight is meant to convey that he has kept one of the central promises of his campaign: withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq. But he is tiptoeing a fine line between taking credit for the withdrawal and echoing the 'mission accomplished' tone that President Bush struck so famously seven years ago, and that came back to haunt Mr. Bush in the ensuing years as Iraq fell into further chaos. ... In rolling out the promises-kept theme on the Iraq withdrawal, Mr. Obama is trying to reconcile his record of opposition to the war, and to the troop surge ordered by President Bush which many military officials credit for stemming violence in Iraq, with his role as a war-time commander seeking to credit his troops with a mission accomplished."
  • Connect Iraq to Afghanistan, Domestic Issues The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes, "we're going to need, according to Obama, to understand the future of the war in Afghanistan and the interconnectedness of foreign and domestic policy in a way that reflects what Obama was able to do in Iraq. ... The glide path in Afghanistan will clearly be different, but the president hopes the analogy sticks: he can manage wars, and what he did in Iraq he can do in Afghanistan."
  • GOP Leaders Seek to Deny Obama Credit The New York Times' Carl Hulse reports, "In advance of President Obama's Tuesday night speech on Iraq, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, was set to remind thousands of veterans attending the national convention of the American Legion that Mr. Obama and other Democrats had opposed the military escalation credited with gains in Iraq."
  • White House Tweaks GOP Over Withdrawal The Hill's Michael O'Brien writes, "The White House sought on Tuesday to put the pressure on top Republicans to say whether they support the withdrawal of 90,000 troops this month from Iraq. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs questioned GOP leaders -- in particular, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- to say where they stand on the change in mission in Iraq that resulted in the withdrawal of tens of thousands of U.S. troops from the country." During the 2008 presidential primaries and campaign, Republicans rallied against setting a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq.
  • Crediting and Thanking Troops The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner writes, "Speaking with troops in a Ft. Bliss dining hall earlier in the day, Obama said there is still much work to be done before Iraq can be an effective partner. But he thanked the troops for their 'extraordinary service' there, helping create a 'better future' for Iraq."
  • Is Obama Taking Credit for Strategy He Opposed? Politico's Meredith Shiner summarizes the GOP strategy. "Obama -- a vocal critic in the Senate and on the campaign trail of the Iraq troop surge -- plans to highlight its success in his second speech from the Oval Office. But McConnell, in a speech in Lexington, Ky., planned to say that credit should be given to 'another president,' George W. Bush, who had the 'determination and will to carry out the plan that made [this] announcement possible.'"
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