Obama tells veterans that end of Iraq war is about to begin
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
President Obama began a month-long effort Monday to remind an American electorate fatigued by war that the U.S. military effort in Iraq is about to enter its end game.
In a speech to the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Atlanta, the president said that beginning next month, the more than seven-year-old conflict will change from a primarily military enterprise to a diplomatic one.
Obama campaigned on winding down the Iraq war, and he used his remarks to veterans, a significant portion of whom did not support him in the election, to remind voters that he is carrying out those plans largely on schedule.
"The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq," the president told the group, which received his speech politely and with occasional applause. "But make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing -- from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."
White House officials said Obama's speech will be followed in the weeks ahead by remarks from Vice President Biden and other senior administration officials about the drawdown. Although Obama opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, his administration says his management of the war represents one of his most important foreign policy successes.
The U.S. combat mission in Iraq will officially conclude at the end of the month, a milestone that comes after a steady troop pullout since Obama took office.
About 50,000 U.S. forces are scheduled to remain in Iraq after the combat mission is done. That means that by the end of August, about 94,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines will have left Iraq since Obama's inauguration.
The departure timetable -- originally negotiated with the Iraqi government by the George W. Bush administration -- calls for all U.S. troops to leave by the end of next year.
But Iraq remains a fragile nation, and its political leadership has warned of a potential power vacuum as U.S. forces withdraw.
Iraqi politicians have not agreed on a new coalition government nearly five months after national elections, and periodic attacks against fledgling Iraqi institutions and troops remain a threat to security.
"Obviously, we're doing what we can to help facilitate them along," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters traveling with the president. "But when you consider that last time it took them six months to put together the government, the fact that there's a stable transitional government in place right now is a sign that this process is working."
White House officials billed Obama's remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.