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Obama's Iraq Speech Will Sound Familiar: He's Said It All Before


This is the day President Obama has been talking about since he was Candidate Obama.

"As president, I will end this war," he said in speech after speech during his presidential campaign.

He would repeatedly say that within 16 months of taking office, he would have U.S. combat troops out of Iraq. As president, he elongated that timeline to 18 months in a speech last year at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina:

"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," he said.

So his Address to the Nation this evening will sound familiar. Only the tense of his verbs will change from future to present.

As a candidate, he said he would pursue a transition to "full Iraqi responsibility" for security in that country. Today, that transition is taking place.

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"This is the future that Iraqis want," Candidate Obama said in a campaign speech on July 15, 2008. "This is the future that the American people want. And this is what our common interests demand."

But seven months later as president, he conceded his plan does not mean an end to violence and bloodshed in Iraq.

"We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries," he said in that Camp LeJeune speech on February 27, 2009. "We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected."

That remains the case in Iraq, which has suffered an increased number of bombings and other attacks in recent days that have claimed scores of lives.

But from the beginning, Mr. Obama insisted that by this day, Iraq would have responsibility for its own defense and security. And he portrayed that as achieving the ultimate objective.

"That's victory. That's success," said Candidate Obama two years ago, using words not often uttered in the same sentence as Iraq.

He said of the end of the U.S. combat role: "That's what's best for Iraq. That's what's best for America."

President Barack Obama greets military personnel at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, April 7, 2009. AP

He said as a candidate and will say again tonight that the withdrawal of 90,000 U.S. troops from Iraq since he took office will ease the strain on the American military and also allow for a greater emphasis on the conflict in Afghanistan - which he has repeatedly called the real central front in the war on terrorism.

But that shift in emphasis also raises another promise he made as a candidate.

"I will finally finish the fight against Bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us on 9/11." he said in that campaign speech in July of '08.

He has increased U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 100,000 and has put Afghan leaders on notice that he intends to start a drawdown of troops there in July of next year.

But that's a pledge that has some analysts warn could lead to defeat, not victory.

Fifty-thousand American troops remain in place in Iraq, but they're mission is training and advising Iraqi security forces and supporting them in counter-terrorism operations. And under the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq negotiated during the final months of the George W. Bush presidency, all Americans troops must be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of next year.

President Obama's speech will be at 8 p.m. ET and will be available on your CBS television station, CBS Radio News or here at

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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