Iraq address offers chance for president to reach out to left

President Obama has an opportunity Tuesday night to remind his supporters on the left of a time when they were all on the same page, united in opposition to George W. Bush and his war in Iraq.

Obama’s highly anticipated Oval Office address on the end of combat operations in Iraq, which he said earlier on Tuesday would not be a "victory lap," comes at a perilous moment for his presidency, but could serve as a reminder to liberals that they once rallied around Obama as the man who would bring the war to an end.

ADVERTISEMENT
The liberal anti-war crowd that propelled Obama to the White House is disenchanted with a president they see as compromising on too many issues, including the Iraq war.

That’s led to worry for Democrats, who fear motivated Republican voters will come to the polls in droves this fall as the left stays home. Such a scenario could cost Obama’s party control of the House.


Tuesday’s address is a moment for Obama to present himself as an effective leader fulfilling the promise his 2008 campaign was built upon, especially to the increasingly impatient liberal anti-war crowd.

“As both a candidate and president, I promised to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Obama said in a video message posted Monday on the White House website. “Now we are taking an important step forward in delivering on that promise.”

Obama previewed some of his address during a visit Tuesday to Fort Bliss in Texas, where he thanked soldiers for their service. He warned there will still be tough days ahead in Iraq, despite the end of the combat mission.

Obama’s trip to the national spotlight began with a Chicago speech in 2002 warning that the Iraq war was being justified by bad intelligence and ideological obsession within the Bush administration.

The address helped rocket the then-unknown Illinois state senator to the White House, as liberals unified behind Obama as an anti-war candidate in the tough Democratic primary with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.).

The White House, which has expressed irritation with liberal supporters for their demands on the president, sees Tuesday as a moment for the left to remember why it supported Obama in the first place.

“The president’s making good on his promise to end our combat mission in Iraq is the kind of success that should please the progressives who opposed the war in Iraq from the start — and the Americans in both parties who recognize that it distracted resources and attention from the fight against the terrorists in Afghanistan who attacked us on 9/11," said one White House official.

Time has bred divisions between the president and the liberal anti-war crowd that helped propel him to the Oval Office.

The united outrage they once shared has dissolved, and some of the same liberals who once chanted, "Yes we can!" now question Obama's commitment on issues like healthcare and gay rights. They are skeptical of Obama’s decision to keep nearly 50,000 troops in Iraq, and oppose his surge of troops into Afghanistan.

“We have set up a situation to come which is likely to be very bloody and violent,” Jane Hamsher, founder of the liberal blog FireDogLake.com, said of the Iraq war.

Given the number of troops and private contractors remaining in Iraq, Hamsher argues, the war is hardly ending, and there is “no victory” in the end of combat operations. Iraqis are “simply waiting us out,” she said.

“To claim otherwise is to re-enact George Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' speech with all its painful ironies,” she said.

Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan has increased tensions between his administration and anti-war groups that backed him in the Democratic primary.

Liberal filmmaker and anti-war activist Robert Greenwald said the end of combat operations is a moment to “be reminded and celebrate that [Obama] stepped up.”

But he said liberals should also use the time to remind Obama that they want to see the war in Afghanistan end. “I don't think it can be purely a 'Kumbaya' moment given what's happening in Afghanistan,” he said.

Even those willing to give Obama some credit for the drawdown of forces take exception to the president’s decision to keep 50,000 troops behind. Those troops are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

“You have to give Obama credit for delivering on his promise to get us out of Iraq,” said Cenk Uygur, host of "The Young Turks" show on Sirius/XM radio, “though 50,000 non-combat troops will definitely do combat. I believe they still have their guns.

“I wish he'd learn the same lesson about Afghanistan. What is victory? Are we leaving Iraq victorious? What did we win? What will we win in Afghanistan?”

—This story was updated at 5:04 p.m.