Washington: For only the second time since he took office, President Obama will speak to the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, in an address meant to convey that he has kept one of the central promises of his campaign: withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq.
Obama will steer clear of the "mission accomplished" tone that President George W Bush struck so famously seven years ago -- and that subsequently came back to haunt him as Iraq fell into further chaos. "You won't hear those words coming from us," said the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
But Obama will still strike a promises-kept theme, aides said, even as he seeks to reconcile his opposition to the Iraq war -- and his opposition to the so-called troop surge, which Republicans and many military officials credit for the decrease in violence in Iraq -- with his role as a wartime commander in chief seeking to credit his troops with carrying out a difficult mission. The president, his aides said, will seek to honor the American soldiers who served in Iraq.
On Monday, Obama made an unannounced trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to visit with soldiers wounded in Iraq, and on Tuesday morning he will travel to Fort Bliss, Tex., to meet with American troops.
In his Oval Office address, Obama will also try to put into larger context "what this drawdown means to our national security efforts in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia and around the world as we take the fight to Al Qaeda," Mr. Gibbs said. That means speaking to the country about the American presence in Afghanistan, a topic that the president has spoken about only in general terms since announcing his Afghanistan policy last December.
"I'm a general fan of how he's handled the two wars," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "But if there's a consistent weakness, it's the episodic quality in how we hear from him about the wars. He temporarily engages."
Obama, O'Hanlon said, should use his Oval Office pulpit on Tuesday night to explain in clear terms exactly what American troops have been doing in Afghanistan over the past few months, and, looking forward, what his aims are over the next year.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in Baghdad on Monday to commemorate the official end of the American combat mission in Iraq, which saw about seven years of fighting, and 4,400 American soldiers and countless Iraqis killed. But for all of the celebration in Washington and among American officials in Baghdad, this week's commemorations come as Iraq is wrestling with a political stalemate that has been in place since an inconclusive general election about six months ago.
Administration officials have hastened to say that the stalemate simply means that -- in Biden's words -- "politics has broken out in Iraq."
Michael R Gordon contributed reporting from Baghdad.