Tony Gutierrez / AP
President Barack Obama speaks to troops and military families Friday at the 1st Aviation Support Battalion Hangar at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
Fort Bliss, Texas – On the second anniversary of the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, President Barack Obama returned to the same Army base he visited in 2010 to announce the mission’s end. The message from the president to the troops Friday:
“When you take off that uniform, we are going to help you fully participate in our economy. Every single one of you has defended the American dream for the rest of us and every single one of you deserves the chance to live the American dream for yourselves.”
As a part of the aid, the president explained that he signed a new executive order designed to give troops, veterans and military families better access to mental health care.
But while the visit was billed as an “official” White House event, meaning the president wasn’t technically in campaign mode, it was hard not to hear campaign themes and fighting words in the president’s speech.
Speaking about his 2008 campaign promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, “Ending these wars is letting us do something else: restore American leadership. If you hear anyone trying to say that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, don't you believe it, because here's the truth: our alliances have never been stronger.”
While that felt like a veiled swipe at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the president’s tough talk toward Congress was not hidden at all. He told the audience of 5000 troops and civilians that “some folks” were trying to scare them when talking about the looming defense cuts that were a result of a congressional deal to raise the debt ceiling last year:
“Understand, nobody wants these cuts … There's no reason those cuts should happen, because folks in Congress ought to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. That's what needs to happen,” the president said forcefully.
The backdrop of men and women in fatigues was all the more prominent Friday in the face of Romney omitting any mention of troops serving in Afghanistan during his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night.
One Obama campaign official said, “In an almost 45-minute speech, Romney didn’t find a moment to mention our troops in Afghanistan or how we’re providing for veterans when they return home.”
The president also vigorously emphasized the promises he believed he has kept during his presidency (pulling all combat troops out of Iraq last year, “taking the fight to al Qaida,” trying to help returning veterans) with a line he repeated three times, “I meant what I said.”
Obama’s “Road to Charlotte” campaign swing officially begins Saturday with two stops in Iowa followed by visits to Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. He will also tour Hurricane Isaac damage in Louisiana on Monday afternoon.