Tales from the Trail

Obama ends Iraq war where it began — the Oval Office

The Iraq war ended where it began — at the president’s desk in the White House Oval Office.

President Barack Obama declared the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq with his hands folded on the desk where 7-1/2 years earlier President George W. Bush announced the beginning of military operations. IRAQ/OBAMA-SPEECH

“Much has changed since that night,” Obama said in the second Oval Office prime-time televised address of his presidency.

Obama  in his 19-minute speech praised the former president’s patriotism. But he did not do what Republicans had wanted –  credit Bush’s troop surge, which Obama had opposed, with leading to the end of combat operations.

Instead, Obama spoke about the ”rough waters” endured during one of America’s longest wars that divided the country and turned increasingly unpopular.

Obama to call Bush ahead of Iraq speech

Just a friendly chat between two commanders in chief over a 7-1/2 year Iraq war…

President Barack Obama plans to call former President George W. Bush and discuss Iraq where he is ending combat operations that his  predecessor began. OBAMA/

Whether or not Obama will mention Bush in his primetime Oval Office television address at 8 p.m. Tuesday is unclear. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the ex-president will be among the people Obama calls before giving the speech.

U.S. stimulus to cost more than Iraq, Afghan war so far

US/WASHINGTON – Republican critics of the Democratic-backed landmark stimulus package are pointing out that its 800-billion-dollar-plus price tag would — “in one fell swoop,” as Republican Representative Todd Akin put it — consume more resources than have been laid out for two wars, so far.

The Pentagon says the United States has committed $524.6 billion to the nearly six-year-old conflict in Iraq and $120.9 billion to the fighting in Afghanistan since 2001.

“I almost have to pinch myself, gentlemen, to think that just standing here a couple of hours ago, we just voted to spend $800 billion, more than the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Republican Akin declared Wednesday after the House of Representatives passed the stimulus without a single Republican vote in favor.

Laura Bush: Shoe-throwing incident sign of ‘freer’ Iraq

The video of an agile U.S. President George W. Bush ducking two shoes thrown at him during a news conference in Baghdad has been fodder for jokes on late-night television and a big hit on the Internet.

Even Bush laughed off the Dec. 14 incident. But his wife was not amused by an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush, narrowly missing the president.

“It was an assault,” Laura Bush said in a Fox news interview broadcast on BUSHSunday. “And I think it should be treated that way.”

‘One of the most weird moments of my presidency’ — Bush

If you thought that shoe-throwing episode in Baghdad was odd, you’re not alone — President George W. Bush thought so too.
 IRAQ/BUSH-SHOE
“It has got to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency,” he told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “Here I am getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a democratic Iraq and a guy stands up and throws a shoe.”
 
What was going through his mind? Not much it seems.
 
“I didn’t have much time to reflect on anything. I was ducking and dodging,” Bush said.
 
Throwing shoes at someone is considered a supreme insult in Iraq, a shoe being considered dirty. People whacked Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad with shoes after it was toppled during the U.S. invasion.
 
Bush says he doesn’t harbor any anger toward the Iraqi TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi for attacking him. Al-Zaidi has been cheered by some in the Arab world for his action, but he faces potential criminal charges in Baghdad.
 
“I’m not even sure what his status is,” Bush said. “They shouldn’t overreact.”
 
Bush told CNN the most important decision he made during his presidency was “sending troops into harm’s way,” and not once but twice — in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
“The reason it’s the most important is because it’s the most consequential,” he said
 
“It is a decision that no president should ever take lightly and every president should take a lot of time thinking about it because lives will be lost,” Bush added.
 
Asked if he ever revisited the decision, Bush said he sometimes thought about it but usually “with a concern about whether or not we would succeed.”
 
“In Iraq, I was deeply concerned about whether or not we would succeed,” he said, adding that was especially true in 2006. “A lot of people in Washington were saying, let’s get out now. And I obviously chose not to do that.  But, that was a very difficult period.”
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Reuters TV (Bush ducks a shoe during a news conference in Baghdad Dec. 14)

Bush contemplates how he’d like to be remembered

President George W. Bush, nearing the end of his final term in office, says he most wants to be remembered as someone who came to Washington and didn’t lose his values.
 
Someone who didn’t sell his soul to the political process.
 
Somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace.
 
So he told his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, in an interview for StoryCorps, the national oral history initiative. An excerpt of the interview aired on National Public Radio on Thanksgiving Day and the White House released excerpts on Friday. The entire interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

“I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process,” Bush said in the interview. “I came to Washington with a set of values, and I’m leaving with the same set of values.  And I darn sure wasn’t going to sacrifice those values.”
 
“I’d like to be a president (known) as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace; that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor,” the president added.
 
He mentions his HIV/AIDS and malaria initiatives in Africa, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit as two programs he is proud of.
 
Asked about his “No Child Left Behind” education law, Bush called it one of the “significant achievements of my administration.”
 
“We said loud and clear to educators, parents, and children that we expect the best for every child, that we believe every child can learn, and that in return for federal money we expect there to be an accountability system in place to determine whether every child is learning to read, write and add and subtract,” Bush said.

Bush hands over power to President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009.
 
As he heads into the final weeks of his presidency, Bush’s job approval ratings remain low. Only about 26 percent approve of his performance, while some 70 percent disapprove.
 
Bush’s decision to take the United States to war in Iraq is widely unpopular. A Quinnipiac University poll in early November found that 58 percent disagreed with decision.

Bush out of sight, but keeping eye on election

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush, who has stayed out of the public eye in the final days before the election to choose his successor, knows his popularity has suffered, but the White House insists he will have no problem looking in the mirror when he returns to Texas.

Bush spent the weekend at Camp David and has no public events on Monday or Tuesday. He last spoke with his preferred successor Republican John McCain on Sept. 25, the day of a White House meeting on the financial bailout.

McCain has actively campaigned to distance himself from the unpopular 43rd U.S. president, rarely appearing with Bush since capturing the Republican presidential nomination in March.

In apparent shift, Cindy McCain invokes sons in criticism of Obama

cindy.jpgBETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania – Republican John McCain’s military history is famous, but the service of his sons is less well known. And until recently, that’s exactly how the presidential candidate and his wife, Cindy, wanted it.
 
But on Wednesday, Mrs. McCain made a rare reference to her sons when criticizing the Illinois senator for his 2007 vote against a war funding bill. McCain has two sons in the military, and one has served in Iraq.  “The day that Sen. Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body,” McCain told a crowded rally in Pennsylvania, an electoral battleground state.
 
“I would suggest that Sen. Obama change shoes with me for just one day and see what it means … to have a loved one serving in the armed forces and more importantly, serving in harm’s way,” she said. “I suggest he take a day and go watch our fine young men…and women deploy, get on those buses and leave with a smile.”
 
McCain also invoked vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s son, who recently deployed to Iraq.
 ”We have a lot in common, the McCain family and the Palin family,” she said. “We represent between us the Army, the Navy and the United States Marine Corps.”
 
Obama voted against the funding bill in 2007 but supported a version that included a timetable for withdrawal for U.S. troops from Iraq.
 
The son of Obama’s vice presidential running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, has just been sent to Iraq with the Army National Guard, and will be there for about a year. Obama has two young daughters. 

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Kerry takes convention stage again, rips McCain

johnkerry1.jpgDENVER – John Kerry, the failed 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, took the stage at this year’s party convention on Wednesday to praise Illinois Sen. Barack Obama – whose career he helped launch — and lambaste John McCain.

Kerry, who said he had been friends with McCain for nearly 22 years, used tough words to criticize the Arizona senator’s evolution from a maverick legislator to a presidential candidate.

“Before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself,” Kerry said, listing what he described as McCain’s shifts on tax cuts, immigration, and climate change.

Obama: Russia, U.S. should not ‘charge into’ other countries

LYNCHBURG, Virginia – Democrat Barack Obama scolded Russia again on Wednesday for invading another country’s sovereign territory while adding a new twist: the United States, he said, should set a better example on that front, too.

The Illinois senator’s opposition to the Iraq war, which his comment clearly referenced, is well known. But this was the first time the Democratic presidential candidate has made a comparison between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Russia’s recent military activity in Georgia.

“We’ve got to send a clear message to Russia and unify our allies,” Obama told a crowd of supporters in Virginia. “They can’t charge into other countries. Of course it helps if we are leading by example on that point.”