Obama to Address the Nation on Iraq Tonight

Obama entering the Oval Office, pre-carpet change. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The media has had a field day with stories on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq today on the eve of Obama’s address to the nation in the Oval Office (with a new carpet I hear).

The Council on Foreign Relations produced a nice time line and multimedia presentation of the progression of the Iraq War since 2003. Seriously, a gorgeous and cohesive presentation for those who haven’t been following news from Iraq since the Bush Administration.

The Weekly Standard published a story by William Kristol urging Obama to address Iraq not as a candidate campaigning for Presidency, but as the commander-in-chief who needs to execute this carefully:

“So my sincere hope—and it is sincere, with no political agenda (for what it’s worth, I think following the advice I’m about to give would help you politically)—is that you don’t begin your remarks tomorrow night, as you did your weekly address Saturday, by taking credit for fulfilling a campaign promise. Your oath as president was to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and it is in that capacity that you now make foreign policy judgments, not as a former candidate keeping well- or ill-considered campaign promises.”

Laura Rozen, on the other hand, discussed Obama’s fulfilled promises with Iraq when he said he would refocus on Afghanistan and turn Iraq from a combat strategy to a diplomatic initiative. The promises kept, however, will be overshadowed by the still unstable Iraqi state, increasing violence and our wars in other parts of the Middle East.

“The still-unsettled Iraqi state also complicates matters for Obama; while avoiding Bush’s famous “mission accomplished” declaration, the president must nevertheless signal a satisfactory conclusion to the second-longest war in American history,” she writes quoting Abby Phillip of POLITICO.

Reports have also already indicated that the GOP leader has issued a pre-rebuttal of Obama’s speech (not too surprising since a transcript of his speech is probably circulating newsrooms as we speak). The reports say that Repubicans think success in Iraq has come “in spite” of Obama.

Countless other reports have been issued today, but I’m curious to see if this speech will be meaty or simply statements saying that we are staying the course and support our troops.

During Obama’s speech at Fort Bliss this afternoon, he stressed the importance of careful security training in Iraq in light of recent violence.

“The work that continues is absolutely critical, providing training and assistance to Iraqi security forces, because there’s still violence in Iraq and they’re still learning how to secure their country the way they need to. And they’ve made enormous strides, thanks to the training that they’ve already received,” he said.

U.S. Major General Steven Lanza, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, spoke to Reuters in Bagdad today and reassured the public that Iraqi forces are capable of securing the state despite the struggle ahead.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, there is still challenges to be met in the future, there is still be some violence, but again, the quicker the government get seated, that is the most important factor in mitigated the violence,” he said.

On the other hand, a report from RFE/RL indicates that the Iraqi people are worried of the U.S. withdrawal and could feel abandoned in a time of need.

“What they are leaving in Iraq is democracy only, while there is no security, no stability, no services and, in fact, nothing at all but that ‘democracy’ they say they applied. We are not really gaining a lot from their presence here, but maybe if they stayed longer, it would be better,” said one Iraqi woman.
“[President Obama] made the promise to his people that he would withdraw on a certain day and date, and he did it. But he left Iraq in a difficult situation, also in difficult political situation. Things are not good. He should have kept his promise to the Iraqi people they way he did to the American people,” said another Iraqi man.

I’m more interested to see how journalists on the ground in Iraq, soldiers and civilians will react to Obama’s speech. I also am curious to see if the withdrawal will lead to neighboring forces invading or launching their own attacks. Only time will tell. In the meatime, I’ll be watching tonight.