“The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people,” the president said in his Oval Office speech Tuesday night, only the second time he has addressed the nation from the (newly redecorated) Oval Office. Obama formally announced the end of the U.S. combat role in the country, declaring that Operation Iraqi Freedom is “over” and it is time to ”turn the page.” About 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, but the president said in the address that all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.
Considering many of Obama’s previous speeches have been praised as passionate and stirring, this one was noticeably subdued, the president providing a status report in an almost professorial manner. Chatter before the speech focused on how Obama would refer to his predecessor’s role in beginning the war. While he did not specifically mention former president George W. Bush’s 2007 “surge” in troops, Obama avoided any criticism of how Bush launched the war … and he actually lauded him.
“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.”
The president briefly mentioned the conflict in Afghanistan, noting that Al Qaeda “continues to plot against us.” He said the removal of troops in Iraq will mean additional resources for the effort in Afghanistan, though he pledged that those troops, too, will be removed from Afghanistan by the end of next year. The final act of the speech somewhat awkwardly transitioned into a discussion of the economy, as Obama claimed the country’s “most urgent task is to restore our economy” and add jobs.
“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.”
The closing of the speech centered on the veterans, as he noted that “part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it.” He pledged: “We will do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust.”