Obama's Tightrope on Iraq

President praises the military while still believing war was wrong in the first place.

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It's a delicate balancing act, but President Obama is trying to bill the U.S. war in Iraq as a military success while at the same time not backing off from his initial opposition to the conflict, which he once called "dumb."

"History will judge the original decision to go into Iraq," Obama said at a news conference yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But he praised American and Iraqi forces, noting that, "They are the reason that we can stand here today. And we owe it to every single one of them—we have a moral obligation to all of the—-to build a future worthy of their sacrifice."

Overall, Obama's decision to maintain the withdrawal timetable endorsed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, has proven popular with most Americans. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month found that 78 percent of Americans support the president's decision to withdraw from Iraq by December 31.

But Obama's stance on Iraq is a political tightrope walk. He won the Democratic nomination in 2008 partly because he opposed Bush's original choice to invade in order to depose dictator Saddam Hussein, and Obama hasn't changed his mind, his aides say. [See pictures of American troops withdrawing from Iraq.]

But at the same time, he doesn't want to diminish the sacrifices of the nearly 4,500 American soliders who died in the war and the many thousands who were wounded. So he is charting a course that praises the accomplishments of the U.S. military—he will make a speech at Fort Bragg, N.C. tomorrow—but steers clear of historical analysis of what he considers the flawed judgment that led to the U.S. intervention in the first place.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told me that Obama promised in 2008 to "end the war a lot more responsibly than we got into the war," and that's what he's doing.

Carney also said Obama's respect for the military has deepened since he became president and has seen first-hand the skill, commitment and patriotism of the armed forces.

The press secretary added that Obama plans to maintain a "high-level relationship" with Iraqi's political leaders well into the future—a point made by Obama and Maliki at their news conference yesterday.

  • Read Henry Kissinger, Others Share Diplomatic War Stories.
  • Read Obama To Tout Ending Of The War In Iraq.
  • Read Warriors With Fins or a Tail.