Can Obama Turn the Page from Iraq to the Economy?


Some one better check the president's iPod for Bob Seger.

"Here I am / On the road again / There I am / Up on the stage / Here I go / Playin' the star again / There I go / Turn the page" is the chorus of the Seger classic "Turn the Page" and maybe the best ever song written about the pitfalls of life in the spotlight because it applies equally to rock-and-roll and to politics.

And maybe President Obama had those lyrics in his head as he spoke from Oval Office last night, the country's grandest stage, and asked the American people to turn their attention from Iraq to Afghanistan and the economy, as he said, "Now, it is time to turn the page."

After admitting that he had opposed the war from its outset, he said it's time to move on.

"The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda," Mr. Obama told the public. "Because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense."

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The president was channeling his campaign pledge, to fight the right war, not in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. In fact, much of his speech last night could be seen as a way to say mistakes were made in Iraq, the troops did a great job, but let's move on.

"Indeed one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone," he said. This sounds like the liberal debate from 2002 arguing for more diplomacy before military action, to solve the Saddam Hussein threat.

"We must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes - a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time," he added.

Again, here's the president taking subtle digs at the process that led to the Iraq war, playing on fears, recognizing the "real dangers" and the notion that the military can't solve all problems.

Watch full video of Mr. Obama's speech at left

A minute later, he brought that notion full circle. "Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits."

He used this to turn the Iraq speech toward the domestic economy, calling it his "central responsibility" and the nation's most urgent task. In other words, as he announced the end of combat operations in Iraq, the president in part, blamed the Iraq war for the country's dire financial situation. He gave credit to the troops for fighting proudly, but he made it clear his position was that the war in Iraq was not ideal and did not leave the country in an ideal situation.

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In an email to supporters, the president echoed that sentiment. "Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest -- it is in our own. Our nation has paid a huge price to put Iraq's future in the hands of its people. We have sent our men and women in uniform to make enormous sacrifices. We have spent vast resources abroad in the face of several years of recession at home," he wrote.

In the email, he continued the theme, applauding the troops for a job well done and hoping to rally America to turn the page.

"Tonight, we mark a milestone in our nation's history. Even at a time of great uncertainty for so many Americans, this day and our brave troops remind us that our future is in our own hands and that our best days lie ahead," he said.

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Robert Hendin is a CBS News White House producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here.
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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.