How the Iraq war -- at least in American politics -- went from “shock and awe” to barely a whimper… Obama to deliver Oval Office address at 8:00 pm ET marking the end of combat operations in Iraq… Why the administration isn’t declaring victory or “mission accomplished”… In his speech, Obama will also discuss Afghanistan and the need to refocus U.S. financial resources at home… And he’ll mention George W. Bush by name, per latest draft… Obama meets with U.S. soldiers at Fort Bliss, TX before tonight’s speech, while Biden remains in Iraq… Boehner and McConnell respond that the surge worked… Looking at past Oval Office speeches… Caveat emptor on the Gallup poll everyone is talking about… Profiling AZ-5… And Joe Sestak up with his first general-election TV ad.
From Mark Murray and Ali Weinberg
*** From ‘shock and awe’ to a whimper: From 2003 to 2008, the Iraq war unquestionably drove American politics. It was a central issue in the 2004 presidential election; it helped Democrats recapture control of Congress in 2006; and it catapulted Barack Obama to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But as now-President Obama officially marks the end of combat operations in Iraq in an Oval Office address at 8:00 pm ET, it’s striking how it has mostly disappeared as a political issue. “The Iraq war began with shock and awe, and ends with barely a whimper,” says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow on national security policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Much of this is due to the U.S. economy taking center stage since Sept. 15, 2008. But it's also due to the escalation in Afghanistan, as well as the Obama administration's reluctance to declare victory in Iraq.
*** No guarantee of smooth sailing: As we’ve said before, there’s a reason why the administration won’t declare victory: because 50,000 U.S. troops still remain in Iraq, because there’s ongoing violence there, and because Iraq hasn't been able to form a government. “What you've seen is lower and lower levels of violence. The Iraqi security forces are functioning at least as well -- if not better -- than any of us had anticipated,” the president told NBC’s Brian Williams on Sunday. “That doesn't mean that it's going be smooth sailing from here on out. That's why we've still got a training operation there. That's why we're going continue to conduct joint counterterrorism operations… But we're confident that that will get done. And that we're going be a long term partner within Iraq. But we're not going to be operating in the same combat role that we have in the past.”
*** Previewing the speech: NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reports that in Obama’s remarks tonight, he’ll discuss Iraq, the service by U.S. troops, the war in Afghanistan, and the need to refocus U.S. financial resources at home. Speechwriters were working on the address well past midnight, Guthrie adds, and the latest draft mentions George W. Bush by name. In an interview on “TODAY,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed that the U.S. role in Iraq is now to assist Iraqis. “They are in charge of their future,” he said. “They will write their history from this point on.” Before Obama’s primetime speech tonight, he travels to Fort Bliss, TX, where he will meet with troops around 1:10 pm ET before heading back to Washington. Yesterday, the president met with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Vice President Biden, meanwhile, remains in Iraq.
*** The GOP’s response -- the surge worked: Obama, however, isn’t the only U.S. politician talking about Iraq today. In a speech he’s delivering before the American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, WI at 2:10 pm ET, House Minority Leader John Boehner will credit the success in Iraq to Bush’s troop surge. “When Gen. Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy in Jan. 2007, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos,” Boehner will say, according to excerpts his office has released. “Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results… [T]oday, we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated, but progress.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will say something similar in Kentucky today. “Thankfully, we can say today that our troops, the surge, and the Petraeus plan all succeeded where many in Washington thought they would fail.”
*** Gibbs’ response: When NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Gibbs about this GOP critique on “TODAY” this morning, he responded -- as he did during the presidential campaign in 2008 -- that adding more U.S. troops in Iraq wasn’t the only solution. Iraq, Gibbs said, needed a diplomatic and political surge, too.
*** Previous Oval Office speeches: Tonight’s Oval Office address will be Obama’s second as president (his first, on the Gulf oil spill, took place on June 15). Here are some of the famous Oval Office speeches, per NBC’s Marcie Rickun: JFK’s report to the American people on the Soviet arms build-up in Cuba (1962), JFK’s speech on civil rights (1963), LBJ’s address on the U.S. riots (1967), LBJ’s announcement he wasn’t seek re-election (1968), Nixon’s announcement of his resignation (1974), Ford’s statement announcing Nixon’s pardon (1974), Carter’s energy speech (1977), Carter’s “malaise” speech (1979), Reagan’s speech on the Challenger tragedy (1986), Reagan’s remarks on Iran Contra (1987), Reagan’s farewell speech (1989), George H.W. Bush’s announcement of military action in the Persian Gulf (1991), Clinton’s budget speech (1993), Clinton’s Somalia address (1993), Clinton’s remarks on Haiti (1994), Clinton’s speech on bombing Sudan and Afghanistan (1998), George W. Bush’s Sept. 11 address (2001), George W. Bush’s announcement of the Iraq war’s start (2003), and George W. Bush’s address on Iraq and the war on terror (2007).
*** Caveat emptor: Many are touting the new Gallup poll showing Republicans with a 10-point lead in the generic ballot among registered voters -- the largest GOP lead in the history of the poll. But we said it last month when Gallup showed Dems with the generic-ballot edge, and we’ll say it again now: Live by the Gallup daily tracking, die by the Gallup daily tracking.
*** 75 House races to watch: AZ-5: The Democratic nominee is second-term Rep. Harry Mitchell, who was first elected in 2006. The GOP nominee is Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert. In 2008, McCain won 51% in this district, while Bush won 54% in ’04. As of Aug. 24, Mitchell had $1.5 million in the bank, compared with nearly $700,000 for Schweikert. Mitchell voted no on the stimulus and cap-and-trade, but yes on health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as Lean Democratic.
*** More midterm news: In Alaska, Politico reports that Democrats are sticking with their Senate nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams… In Minnesota, a new Minnesota Public Radio/Humphrey Institute poll shows Mark Dayton (D) and Tom Emmer (R) tied at 34% among likely voters in the state’s gubernatorial contest… In Missouri’s Senate race, Robin Carnahan’s (D) campaign is up with a new TV ad hitting Roy Blunt (R)… And in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak (D) is up with his first TV ad of the general election, hitting Pat Toomey (R) on his call to eliminate all corporate taxes.
Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 14 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 63 days