By Jeremy Herb - 09/01/12 07:00 PM EDT
Surrounded by 5,000 troops at Ft. Bliss on Friday, President Obama proudly declared that he had marked the end of combat operations in the war in Iraq two years ago in the same location.
Obama’s speech at the El Paso, Tex., Army base was a preview of the Democrats’ plan to highlight the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq next week at the Democratic convention to draw contrasts with the Republican ticket, as the wars received little attention during the Republican convention.
The Obama campaign and the White House went on the attack after Romney didn’t mention Afghanistan or Iraq during his acceptance speech Thursday night. Romney was also criticized in his own party by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, who wrote Friday that not mentioning the troops provided an opening for Obama in Charlotte.
Obama previewed what’s to come at the convention in his address at Fort Bliss Friday, where he noted the “historic moment” for the nation when he declared the end of combat operations two years prior.
“That night I told the American people that all our troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the following year,” Obama said. “At the time I know some folks didn't believe me. They were skeptical. Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics. But I meant what I said.”
National security and foreign policy are issues where Republican presidential candidates have traditionally had an advantage, but this year Democrats say Obama has the clear upper hand. They point to the death of Osama bin Laden, the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan, and the downfall of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as key achievements for Obama’s presidency.
At the same time, polls have shown that Romney has an edge over Obama among veteran voters, a constituency both campaigns have actively courted. A May Gallup survey found that Romney a 58-34 lead among veterans.
The White House and Obama campaign quickly seized on the fact that Romney did not mention the troops or Afghanistan in his speech Thursday evening.
“I can simply speak for myself that I was surprised not to hear mention of the 70,000 men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, executing a mission that is profoundly important to America’s national security in a conflict that was the direct result of an attack on the United States by al Qaeda,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“In an almost 45-minute speech Romney didn’t find time to mention our troops in Afghanistan,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter echoed on a conference call with reporters.
The Romney campaign responded by noting that Romney had traveled to speak to the American Legion the day before his convention speech, while the president only addressed the convention via video this year.
“President Obama has failed in his duty as Commander in Chief to win the home front,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement to The Hill.
“Unlike any wartime president in memory, he has failed to consistently and forthrightly speak about the war in Afghanistan to the American people,” she said. “The Obama campaign's attack on Gov. Romney today is another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission.”
While Obama is expected to talk about Afghanistan in his speech next week, neither candidate has been eager to discuss the war with much depth on the campaign trail.
Part of the reason is that the war has become unpopular with the American public, and polls have shown that the public supports withdrawing quicker than the current timeline to hand off security control in 2014.
While Romney has criticized Obama for setting a public timeline and the Obama campaign has accused Romney of wanting to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, the candidates have nearly the same position on the drawdown in Afghanistan: they both back the 2014 timeline with a small presence remaining afterward for training and special operations.
Obama said Friday that the United States was ending the war in Afghanistan responsibly, but acknowledged that it was “still a very tough fight.”
Tom Tarantino, an Iraq veteran and chief policy officer at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America advocacy group, said that both Obama and Romney have a good record with veterans, but that veterans are complaining they haven’t heard enough from either candidate on the wars or veterans issues. Tarantino attended the Tampa convention with IAVA to lobby for veterans issues, and he’ll be in Charlotte doing the same thing.
He said he was surprised Afghanistan and Iraq did not get any mention in the speech.
“The governor did give a very good speech at the American Legion and addressed a lot of good issues, but it was noticeably absent from last night’s speech,” Tarantino told The Hill.
“When you’re applying for the job of commander in chief, you need to at the very least in your application speech make mention that we are a nation at war, and right now 85,00 men and women are fighting on the other side of the world for our country.”
The Republican convention focused on national security Wednesday night, when some of the biggest foreign policy names in the GOP spoke to the convention, including the 2008 presidential nominee and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
McCain did not mention Iraq in his speech, but did touch on Afghanistan by criticizing Obama’s strategy.
“By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan before peace can be achieved and sustained, the president has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend these decisions and why they have said it puts our mission at much greater risk,” McCain said.