Obama can’t say it enough: Iraq War over

2011-12-19 00:00

OVER and over, the Iraq war is over.

United States president Barack Obama, who opposed the war all the way to the White House, can’t remind people enough that he is the one ending it and getting every last soldier home.

He is not just the commander in-chief intent on lauding the valour of the military. He is a president seeking re-election and soaking up every chance to keep a promise.

Last week at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, a post that sent thousands of troops to Iraq and saw more than 200 of them die there, Obama summoned glory and gravity.

If the thought sounded familiar, it was because Obama has essentially been declaring an end since the start of his term.

Every milestone allows him to reach all those voters who opposed the unpopular war, including liberals in his party, whose enthusiasm he must reignite to win a second term.

There was the speech in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, way back in February 2009, when he said: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

In the past two months, Obama has taken three more swings at it, all of them commanding the attention the White House wanted.

In October, from the press briefing room: “As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.” On Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at his side: “This is a historic moment. A war is ending.” On Wednesday to troops: “Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

He also made time last week to speak about Iraq to regional television stations serving military communities, most of them in states targeted by his re-election campaign.

Without question, the ending of a war is a moment for any president to reflect with the country. Yet even Obama noted people have seen this one coming for a while.

Since George W. Bush was president, in fact.

Bush was the one who struck a deal with Iraq to set December 31, 2011, as the final day of the war. Yet it was Obama who accelerated the end of the U.S. combat mission when he took office, shifted attention to Afghanistan, and decided to leave no troops behind in Iraq after this year.

The final U.S. forces will be out in days.

This, in essence, is Obama’s mission accomplished — getting out of Iraq as promised under solid enough circumstances and making sure to remind voters that he did what he said.

It is harder to remember now, with joblessness dominating the presidential debate and souring the public mood, but it was not long ago that the Iraq war consumed about everything.

In a new Associated Press-GfK poll, about half of those surveyed called the Iraq war highly important to them. It placed lower in importance than all but one of 14 current issues.

“It’s understandable that he’s trying to bring it back to the forefront of the public consciousness,” said Ole Holsti, a retired Duke University professor who has written a book about American public opinion of the Iraq war.

“From a purely domestic political viewpoint, this is something that the president can bank on — most Americans are eager to bring it to an end,” he said.

Obama’s approval rating on handling the situation in Iraq has been above 50% since late last year.

As troops leave Iraq, 77% of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of the war compared to 33% of Republicans, an enormous gap. Independents are in the middle.

Obama’s challenge has been to get out of the war without leaving Iraq in a mess, to be consistent in his opposition without undermining the military under his command.

Nearly 4 500 Americans have been killed in the war. More than 1,5 million Americans have served in Iraq.

So Obama was effusive in heralding the troops and their families. With no mention of victory, he called their service toward a self-reliant Iraq an extraordinary achievement.

“Americans expect the valour of the troops to be lauded no matter what they thought of the war itself, and Obama is very sensitive to that,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “That’s one big part of what he’s doing.”

But mainly, Obama’s message has been that it is all over, on his terms, just like he said. Again and again. — Sapa-AP.

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