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First thoughts: Turning the page

In Oval Office address last night, Obama said the country was turning the page on Iraq… But it’s still something we’ll have to return to -- when violence continues and when judging whether the war was worth the sacrifice… Surprisingly, Obama used a good part of the speech to discuss the economy… He also talked about Afghanistan, his opposition to the war, and George W. Bush… What he didn’t say: whether the surge worked… Today, Obama turns the page from Iraq to Middle East peace, meeting individually with the heads of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Egypt… The president makes statement to reporters at 5:20 pm ET… Murkowski concedes, becoming the seventh incumbent to lose a primary for re-election this cycle… Three takeaways on Pawlenty’s executive order… Profiling AZ-8… And Boxer and Fiorina debate.

From Mark Murray and Ali Weinberg
*** Turning the page: It’s perhaps fitting that when Barack Obama started using the phrase “It’s time to turn the page,” he was just beginning his bid for the presidency. (When he uttered it on the cold 2007 day officially announcing his run, though, the context was describing how special interests controlled Washington, which hasn’t necessarily ended in this town.) And he used the phrase again in his primetime address last night to officially mark the end of combat operations on the issue that catapulted him to the Democratic nomination and the presidency: the Iraq war. “The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people,” Obama said in his second Oval Office speech. “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”

*** But certain to revisit it: But while this country can now turn the page, it’s more than likely that we’ll have to thumb back to it whenever violence continues to haunt Iraq. “Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission,” Obama noted last night. “Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.” And we’ll also have to revisit it to answer a question Obama didn’t address last night, Politico’s Roger Simon says: “Did it make America safer, and was it really worth it?”

*** It’s the economy, of course…: Maybe the most surprising part of the president’s speech was its focus on the U.S. economy; in fact, it was about one-third Iraq, one-third Afghanistan, and one-third the economy. “Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work,” the president said. “To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy.” Obama clearly realized he couldn't waste this primetime opportunity without addressing the economy at home.

*** What else was said -- and what wasn’t: Indeed, last night’s speech almost had it all. He discussed Afghanistan (saying that he was sticking to his call to begin a conditions-based transfer of responsibility there by next summer, “because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s”). He talked about his opposition to the Iraq war (“As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it”). And, as promised, he mentioned George W. Bush (“It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops”). But what Obama didn’t say, as some Republicans urged him to, was credit Bush’s troop surge for the success in Iraq. But if one wants credit for what worked, doesn’t that also require one to acknowledge what didn’t work, especially from 2003-2006? As one of us asked yesterday, what was the more consequential decision relating to Iraq -- the surge or the decision to go to war in the first place?

*** From Iraq to Middle East peace: One other brief topic in last night’s speech -- Middle East peace -- is today’s top story. Obama meets, individually, at the White House with the stakeholders in the direct talks on Middle East peace that are scheduled to begin tomorrow: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (at 10:45 am ET), Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (1:30 pm), Jordanian King Abdullah (2:45 pm), and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (at 4:00 pm). Then, at 5:20 pm, the president will make a statement to the press about these meetings. By the way, Mubarak has a New York Times op-ed, in which he says, “Many claim that this new round of talks … is doomed to fail like all the others. However, President Obama’s determined involvement has revived our hopes for peace and we must seize this opportunity.”

*** Murkowski concedes: After failing to make up considerable ground in the counting of absentee ballots, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski last night conceded to GOP primary opponent Joe Miller. "We know that we have outstanding votes to count in the primary, but based on where we are right now I don't see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor. And that is a reality that is before me at this time," Murkowski said, per the Anchorage Daily News. The paper adds that Murkowski didn’t endorse Miller in his general election against Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. Murkowski now becomes the seventh incumbent to lose this cycle, joining Bob Bennett in UT, Alan Mollohan in WV, Arlen Specter in PA, Parker Griffith in AL, Bob Inglis in SC, and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in MI. But more importantly, Miller is the fifth Tea Party insurgent to win a GOP Senate primary, following Mike Lee in UT, Rand Paul in KY, Sharron Angle in NV, and Ken Buck in CO.

*** Three takeaways on T-Paw’s executive order: We have three quick takeaways on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (R) executive order yesterday prohibiting Minnesota from applying for some new grants under the health-care law: 1) If you didn't already know it, he's running for president; 2) He wants to be able to make health care THE issue in 2011, to draw the comparisons between ObamaCare and RomneyCare; and 3) We might see some other governors with their eyes on the White House -- Barbour? Daniels? -- issue similar executive orders. One other thing: This executive order will surely be an issue in the Mark Dayton (D)-vs.-Tom Emmer (R) gubernatorial contest. In fact, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine holds a previously scheduled press conference with Dayton today in Minnesota at 10:30 am ET, where Pawlenty’s executive order will certainly be a topic of discussion.

*** 75 House races to watch: AZ-8: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Gabrielle Giffords, who was first elected in 2006. The Republican nominee is political newcomer Jesse Kelly. McCain won 52% in this district in ’08, while Bush won 53% there in ’04. As of Aug. 24, Giffords had nearly $2.4 million in the bank, compared with almost $600,000 for Kelly. Giffords voted no on the stimulus, but yes on cap-and-trade and health care. Cook rates it Lean Democratic, but Rothenberg lists it as a pure Toss up.

*** More midterm news: “Debate season for California's major political candidates begins Wednesday in Moraga, with a televised U.S. Senate matchup at St. Mary's College between Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina,” the San Francisco Chronicle writes.

Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 13 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 17 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 62 days

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