In televised remarks tonight, President Barack Obama took a primetime moment to announce the draw-down of American combat operations in Iraq and to encourage the American public to "turn the page" to move on to other priorities.
Praising U.S. troops and their successful mission, Obama stopped short of declaring victory in Iraq, instead reminding the audience that there was still work to be done:
At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.
The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians –and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people – Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.
So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.
Leading up to the speech, many people (including myself) wondered whether Obama would give credit to former President George W. Bush for the withdrawal agreement with Iraq and/or the successful troop surge then-Sen. Obama opposed. Obama alluded to Bush, but once again stopped short before laying out praise for the former president's war strategy:
I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.
Obama's remarks were strikingly underwhelming and seemed surprisingly disorganized. After not declaring "mission accomplished" in Iraq, the president went on to points about the war in Afghanistan, global trade, our domestic economy, budget deficits and veterans using Iraq as a common thread trying to link them all together. At one point, Obama suggested the Iraq war was partially to blame for the ongoing economic recession here at home:
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.
And that the Iraq war has kept him from maintaining his focus on pivotal issues facing the country:
[A]s we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for –the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.
Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.
In the end, I think conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer's analysis of the speech was right on the money. "I thought the speech was both flat and odd," Krauthammer told Fox News following President Obama's address on Iraq. "The economic stuff [in the speech], I think, really shows that his heart is not in these missions abroad, but is in changing America at home."