President Obama Tonight: The Mission Remains Unaccomplished – In Iraq and Elsewhere

ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports:

As he flew on Air Force One to Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, today, President Obama called President George W. Bush to preview tonight’s Oval Office address and discuss conditions on the ground in Iraq.

At Fort Bliss, President Obama thanked troops for their courage and commitment.

“Our combat phase is now over, we are in transition,” the president said, “and that could not have been accomplished had it not been for the men and women here at Fort Bliss and across the country.”

The president suggested tonight's speech would be the opposite of President Bush’s May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech.

“It’s not going to be a victory lap, it's not going to be self congratulatory," he said. “There's still a lot of work we have to do to make sure Iraq is an effective partner."

Just under 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq to provide training and assistance to Iraqi forces. In fact, President Obama today met with some troops about to be deployed to that country.

Mr. Obama famously opposed the Iraq war. He also opposed President Bush's 2007 surge of troops there.

In January 2007, he told MSNBC, he was “not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

By 2008, he was telling Fox News that “the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated. ..beyond our wildest dreams.”

President Obama's own military leaders have credited the Iraq surge with, in a way, making tonight's speech possible. In February 2009, after the president announced his timeline for the withdrawal of US combat troops, Defense Secretary Bob Gates told me that “clearly what the surge has provided is the opportunity for success to be sustained and for us to accomplish our longer-range goals in Iraq.”

Republicans say that makes tonight's speech unseemly. “Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said today.

But the president's implicit response tonight will be that his opposition was rooted in his belief that Iraq was a distraction from other priorities, including economic growth in the US and the pursuit of al Qaeda abroad. Even if he was wrong on the surge, the suggestion will be, he was right on the war.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Good Morning America today that “obviously, putting resources into Iraq took our eye off of Afghanistan, and we're now trying to make up for that, even as we speak.”

-Jake Tapper

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