Obama Transitions From Iraq to Economy in Oval Office Speech

Posted August 31, 2010 at 8:44pm

President Barack Obama sought to ring a tone of unity Tuesday night in announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq, declaring that “now it is time to turn the page.”

“I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended,” Obama said in his speech from the White House. “Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”

Delivering his second live address from the Oval Office, Obama noted that the U.S. government’s “central mission” would now shift to jump-starting the suffering economy. “Today, our most urgent task is to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work,” he said.

Obama praised the military and, in keeping with his theme of unity, gave a nod to President George W. Bush for “his love of country and commitment to our security.” Obama had roundly criticized Bush in 2003 for deploying troops to Iraq.

“I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home,” Obama said, alluding to his outspoken criticism of the war during Bush’s tenure. “Here, too, it is time to turn the page.”

Yet Obama cited the years of war as a primary cause of the nation’s suffering economy and high unemployment rate. “Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity,” he said. “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.”

With that, the president declared a new push to bolster the economy, an issue that is defining this year’s Congressional midterm elections. Democrats could lose a considerable number of seats in the House and Senate over the weak economy.

The nation’s service members deserve to come home to a decent jobs market, Obama said, acknowledging that restoring the economy “will be difficult.”

“But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people and my central responsibility as President,” he added.

Republicans spent much of Tuesday blasting Congressional Democrats and Obama in anticipation of the evening speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lauded Bush for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007, a jab at Obama, who staunchly opposed the plan. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested that Obama placed campaign promises ahead of homeland security in his foreign policy actions.

In delivering Tuesday night’s speech, Obama made good on his campaign pledge to cease all combat operations in Iraq by the end of August, and he used the opportunity to reiterate his plan to transition U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, starting in July 2011.

“The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure,” Obama said. “But make no mistake, this transition will begin, because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

Nearly 100,000 troops have been removed from Iraq and hundreds of bases have been closed or transferred to Iraqi control, although a transitional force will remain temporarily. Obama noted that Iraq “continues to suffer terrorist attacks,” yet he said the episodes are less frequent, and efforts by the Iraqi government to dismantle al-Qaida continue. Obama applauded the nation’s electoral process this year and said he hopes that the current caretaker administration will be replaced by “an inclusive government” in future elections.