WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday declared that at month's end the U.S. will end its combat mission in Iraq "as promised and on schedule," and he pledged to veterans, "Your country is going to take care of you when you come home."
Obama's remarks were designed to remind voters that he's fulfilling his pledge to end the U.S. war in Iraq, one of the biggest issues of his 2008 election victory. He's also trying to rouse voters to support Democrats in congressional and state elections this November.
His remarks were somewhat muted however, as the U.S. transition occurs without a new Iraqi coalition government in place five months after elections were held there and growing doubts back home about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, where violence is at an all time high.
The president doesn't face re-election until 2012, but as head of the Democratic Party he's been shifting toward campaign mode for this November's races. Obama also is looking to boost his own job approval ratings, which have been stuck below 50 percent all summer, by touting his accomplishments. Last week, he traveled to Michigan to promote his administration's bailout of the U.S. auto industry as a success, telling Chrysler and GM workers that without the federal intervention 1 million more jobs would have disappeared.
His speech on Monday to the Disabled American Veterans at a conference in Atlanta likewise aimed to show his administration's progress toward fulfilling his campaign pledge to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, though rhetorically he had a more nuanced case to make.
Having once called the Iraq war "dumb" and having run for president pledging to end the war, Obama wants to take credit for ending the combat mission while praising the troops' achievements. He said, "Because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years."
Meanwhile, even after U.S. combat operations end on August 31, some 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for counterterrorism, training and support missions. All U.S. troops are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 under the current agreement with the Iraqi government.
"By the end of this month, we'll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office," Obama said, but added, "The hard truth is, we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio issued a statement praising Obama "for listening to our commanders in the field" but added, "This is no time to celebrate." He warned that the stalled formation of a new government in Baghdad and a recent attack on Shiite pilgrims prove how vulnerable Iraq remains.
Obama defended his and others' opposition to the war, saying "there are patriots who supported going to war and patriots who opposed it."
Following the speech, Obama left to speak at a Democratic National Committee fund-raising event where 200 guests were expected to donate a combined $500,000.
The president also made a point in his Monday remarks of reassuring that his health care overhaul will not limit veterans' access to prosthetics or other government health care benefits. Many congressional Democrats are on the defensive for having voted for it.
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