Obama was an early critic of the war, speaking out against it during the U.S. invasion in early 2003 and promising during his presidential campaign to bring the conflict to an end. The White House sees Tuesday’s benchmark as a promise kept and has gone to great lengths to promote it as such, dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to Iraq to preside over a formal change-of-command ceremony and raising Tuesday night’s remarks to the level of an Oval Office address, something Obama has only done once before.
Administration officials have been careful to avoid equating the end of the combat mission with a mission accomplished. That was the phrase on the now-infamous banner that flew on an aircraft carrier seven years ago when President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, a symbol the Bush White House came to deeply regret as the war dragged on.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s remarks, Obama also planned to speak with Bush. While Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was criticized by many — including Obama — the troop surge Bush ordered in 2007 has been credited with tamping down violence in Iraq and helping keep the country from falling into a civil war. Among the unanswered questions about Tuesday’s address is whether Obama will give Bush any credit for the role the surge played in leading the war to its end.