On August 31, the President will reportedly deliver a major speech on Iraq, framing the withdrawal of all combat troops (despite the continued presence of 50,000 “advise and assist” troops with combat training who can go on combat missions when asked by the Iraqis) as a successful foreign policy triumph.
According to a senior White House official the speech will try to make these three points:
1) Expressing gratitude to US forces — military and civilian — who worked so hard and sacrificed so much;
2) Pointing out that the president is keeping a promise he made on the campaign trail for the respoinsible withdrawal of US troops (all troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011, per the Status Of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government);
3) Putting the war in Iraq in the larger context of US national security challenges and the need to focus on larger threats — such as al Qaeda.
This final message, along with the president underlining that the US commitment to Iraq remains in place, will be part of an overall message that hard work remains on national security issues — that mission is not “accomplished.”
That’s quite a tightrope to walk, since a speech calling the withdrawal of combat forces a promise kept certainly sounds like a “Mission Accomplished” speech.
One thing this type of major speech does: it makes it less possible to renege on the follow-through of that promise, to remove all troops by the end of 2011. Gen. Ray Odierno said this weekend that Iraqi forces would have to completely fail for US forces to return to the battlefield, and that they will keep their mentoring role. This really narrows the options for keeping troops in Iraq, especially because the Iraqis hold the whip hand here in the form of the status of forces agreement.
Meanwhile, a US soldier died in Iraq yesterday, after a rocket strike near Basra. This was the first casualty since the withdrawal of combat forces.