President Barack Obama's announcement Friday that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011 marks the fulfillment of a major political promise Obama had made on the 2008 campaign trail.
The president announced his decision at an early afternoon press conference at the White House. It's in keeping with the timeline Obama first established in early 2009, when he first laid out a timetable for withdrawal.
The announcement comes Friday with a great amount of political import, though. Obama is keeping a major campaign promise -- he noted as much in his very first sentence at his press conference -- and he is building on a string of recent foreign policy successes -- the death yesterday of Libya's Moammar Khaddafy, most recently -- going into a re-election battle in which a top issue, jobs and the economy, may end up being a vulnerability for the president.
"As a candidate for president, I planned to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said Friday at the White House. "After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all troops by the end of 2011.
"So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year," the president continued. "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
Those lines were promoted by Obama's campaign Twitter account, underscoring the cross-secting political and military undercurrents guiding today's announcement.
Obama's initial opposition to the war was one of the key parts of his record that propelled him past Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary; in the general election, Obama had been pitted against Arizona Sen. John McCain, a top proponent of the war, and the subsequent "surge" of U.S. troops to help secure Iraq despite its destabilizing insurgency.
"The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president," Obama wrote in a 2008 op-ed in the New York Times.
And for as much friendly fire that the president has taken from the left for unfinished campaign trail promises, Obama's move to withdraw troops marks a moment of deep satisfaction for his base, whom he's courting again heading into next fall's election.
It also helps burnish Obama's foreign policy credentials on top of a string of accomplishments this year. Khaddafy's death Thursday in Libya provided some measure of validation of the president's measured strategy toward the rebellion there. U.S. predator drones also managed to assassinate a major al-Qaeda figure, Anwar al-Awlaki, last month. And Obama's scored perhaps no greater achievement than the successful killing of Osama bin Laden earlier this year in Pakistan -- something to which Obama made reference Friday.
"I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition: the tide of war is receding," Obama said. "The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to focus our fight against al-Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership, including Osama bin Laden."
He noted the additional transition in Afghanistan in a move toward bringing troops home from that part of the world, too.
"When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half," he said. "And make no mistake, it will continue to go down."