Obama warns changing mission in Iraq will come with additional sacrifice

Obama warns changing mission in Iraq will come with additional sacrifice

President Obama on Monday renewed his commitment to winding down the war in Iraq, promising the U.S. combat mission will end this month.

Obama, who was largely propelled into the national spotlight by his opposition to the Iraq war, said the U.S. commitment is changing to a role supporting Iraqi troops, and emphasized that by the end of August more than 90,000 U.S. troops will have returned home since he took office.

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“I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end,” Obama said to applause. “And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.”

But as Obama marks the end of combat operations in Iraq, the one-time darling of the liberal anti-war crowd is coming under criticism for forging ahead with the Afghanistan conflict, which increasingly looks like it will define his legacy.

“What really disappoints me is what he’s doing in Afghanistan,” said Medea Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the anti-war group Code Pink. “Either he’s not as smart a fellow as I thought he was or there are forces that are hard for us to understand once you become president.”

During the presidential campaign, Obama won the early support of the anti-war crowd while then-Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE (D-N.Y.) suffered from her vote in support of war. Since then, he’s hedged on an initial campaign promise to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in 16 months.

Worse, from the perspective of anti-war groups, is the stepped-up effort in Afghanistan.

“We certainly don’t consider him a peace president anymore,” Benjamin said.

About 50,000 U.S. troops will stay in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces, join Iraqis in counterterrorism missions and protect U.S. civilian interests until the end of 2011, when all U.S. troops are supposed to leave the country.

Those 50,000 troops and as many as 75,000 private contractors remain a concern for groups like Code Pink.

“It was always too late for us, but it is what it is,” Benjamin said. “We’re worried about the 50,000 troops that will stay behind. That’s way too many.”

While more than 90,000 troops are coming home from Iraq, thousands more are being deployed to Afghanistan, where Obama argues the U.S. is leading an important mission to strike at the origins of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Let us never forget — it was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted and trained to murder 3,000 innocent people on 9/11,” Obama said. “It is Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan where terrorists have launched other attacks against us and our allies.

“And if Afghanistan were to be engulfed by an even wider insurgency, al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates would have even more space to plan their next attack. And as president of the United States, I refuse to let that happen.”

Obama has promised to begin withdrawing troops within a year, but that timeline faces skepticism from anti-war groups, which want Obama to accelerate the removal of troops.

“In light of the recent WikiLeaks revelations and other continued tragic news about our effort in Afghanistan, we hope that the president accelerates his commitment to developing a swift and safe plan to exit Afghanistan,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications at MoveOn.org.

The Afghanistan effort also faces opposition from Obama’s own party. In last week’s vote on funding the war, 102 House Democrats voted against the president.

Obama, a state senator from Illinois when the Iraq war started in 2003, jumped onto the national stage with his vocal opposition to the war launched by then-President George W. Bush.

In a 2002 speech, a then-unknown Obama railed against the possibility of war, calling pre-emptive action in Iraq “dumb” and “rash.”

“What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war,” Obama said at the time. “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

But with the war nearing an end, Obama, eight years later, is toning down the anti-war rhetoric considerably

“There are patriots who supported going to war and patriots who opposed it,” Obama said. “But there has never been any daylight between us when it comes to supporting the more than 1 million Americans in uniform who have served in Iraq — far more than any conflict since Vietnam.”

Benjamin said she did not expect Obama to mirror the remarks he made in 2002, saying it’s just not “realistic” for him to bash the war as commander in chief.

“He’s trying to put a positive spin on what we did in Iraq even though he opposed the war,” Benjamin said. “He naturally feels he has to put a positive light on our achievements there, when I think the reality is horrendous.”

This story was originally posted at 12:38 p.m. and updated at 7:53 p.m.