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Obama's Iraq speech: what they're saying

Host | 01:37 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

President Barack Obama marked the official end to America's combat duties in Iraq with a televised address to the American people, delivered from behind his desk in the Oval Office on Tuesday evening.

The Atlantic Magazine's James Fallows says that this speech was a better effort than his first Oval Office address less than three months ago:

Back in June, I thought that President Obama's first speech from the Oval Office, about the BP oil spill, was his first significant under-performance as an orator. Content not up to the occasion; stage presence detracting from rather than bolstering the message. [This was] a better job on all fronts. A speech that in its content and line-by-line phrasing clearly conveyed its message.... And bearing that backed up the sobriety of the content.... I don't know how many people were watching or whether this will change any minds. But as a performance, clearly it helped rather hurt.

Joe Klein from Time Magazine, a frequent critic of the Iraq war, wrote that the best that could be said about the sombre speech was that Mr Obama survived yet another tough moment of his presidency:

It seems this President is destined to make the toughest and most convoluted political arguments of any recent occupant of the office: We had to bail out the bankers in order to save your jobs. Our stimulus package prevented something far worse than the current, limping economy from overwhelming us. And tonight: the war in Iraq was a tremendous waste of lives and dollars, and the money should have been spent here at home, but we fought it honorably - for the most part - and we should be pleased that the Iraqis may manage to build themselves a stable society.

This isn't easy. And it may just be me, but the President's discomfort seemed evident tonight - or maybe it's just that sitting down, with his hands clasped before him, staring into the camera isn't his best venue for public speaking. Or it may be that announcing the end of a foolish mission requires a certain stiffness and sobriety.

The New York Times, after noting that Mr Obama sounded like his predecessor, George W Bush, pointed out that he seemed eager to switch the discussion to problems at home.

But it was clear that, at a time when Americans are anxious about the economy, Mr. Obama also wanted to use the address to pivot toward problems at home. As he praised the courage and resolve of the American troops, he reminded the nation of the blood and treasure that had been spilled during the Iraq war, and said it is time for him to focus on his "central responsibility'' as president: restoring the economic health of the nation.

Writing in Politico, White House Correspondent Glenn Thrush called the President "subdued", adding the Mr Obama leavened his speech with "caution, caveats and compromise." But Thrush says the speech tried to cement an image of the President as a man who keeps his promises:

The address - delivered from the same place where Bush made the decision to take the nation into war on faulty intelligence that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction - was clearly meant to portray Obama as a man who keeps his word and a competent Commander-in-Chief

Alex Pareene from agreed that the speech made good on a campaign promise, but was more cynical about the importance of such things in a time when unforgiving partisanship is rife:

I don't think it was a particularly great or memorable speech, and I also think it scarcely would've mattered if it had been a great speech in this media environment and political climate, but this is more or less the withdrawal we were promised, even if tens of thousands of troops remain, and some of them are sure to be killed in the months and years ahead....

...President Obama doesn't want to be a war president, even if he'll eventually be defined, as most presidents are, by how he handled the wars. Presidents have more power over how we conduct ourselves abroad than they do over domestic issues anyway, as Obama's stressful first term is proving.

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