House Minority Leader John Boehner delivered a rousing speech at the American Legion convention in Milwaukee on Tuesday in advance of President Barack Obama's Oval Office address on the Iraq war, charging the administration with "playing politics" on the war on terror.
“This day belongs to our troops, whose courage and sacrifices have made the transition to a new mission in Iraq possible," said Boehner, who many D.C. insiders believe may well be the next speaker of the House.
Boehner's speech walked a fine line between supporting some of the president's policies and criticizing others.
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“I support our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan," Boehner said, "but the president must do more to emphasize his commitment to ensuring its success rather than focusing on meeting arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal . . . Using campaign promises as yardsticks to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground."
But he pulled no punches when it came to the successful war strategy in Iraq.
In an obvious reference to Obama, who along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposed the Bush administration surge in Iraq, Boehner said: "Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth and nail to stop the surge strategy, now proudly claim credit for the results . . . Today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated — but progress.”
Boehner suggested the Iraq surge worked despite the opposition of leading Democrats. And he provided examples that Democrats probably would prefer go unmentioned:
One Democratic leader in the House, he said, declared the surge a failure before it was even implemented.
Reid said "This war is lost," even while additional forces were still en route to Iraq.
"One lawmaker," Boehner told the American Legion members, rejected the idea that the surge would reduce violence in Iraq, saying, "In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Boehner did not state that the statement was made during a January 2007 speech by then-Sen. Obama.
Democrats continue to accept support from "an anti-war organization" that ran a full-page ad in The New York Times "smearing" Gen. David Petraeus as "General Betray Us," said Boehner, who noted that the organization that ran the ad was MoveOn.org.
"These, ladies and gentlemen, are sad facts," Boehner said.
Boehner thanked the president for setting aside "his past political rhetoric" to accept the drawdown of forces agreement that former President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki negotiated in 2008.
Obama's supporters have pointed out that the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. drawdown was set by President Obama, who had campaigned to end the war in Iraq responsibly.
In a video posted on the White House website Monday, Obama said: “As both a candidate and president, I promised to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. Now we are taking an important step forward in delivering on that promise.”
Other highlights from Boehner's speech:
- He warned the president not to insist on the July 2011 date to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan unless conditions on the ground warrant it.
- He is concerned the administration is lapsing back into treating terrorists as ordinary criminals. "We see signs that we have returned to this pre-9/11 mentality in proposals to house terrorists on American soil just to fulfill a campaign promise," Boehner said. "Now more than ever, the American people deserve our reassurance that their government has the right legal authorities and the right mindset . . . to prevent future attacks on American soil."
- He was sharply critical of the administration's decision announced Friday to shelve the much-anticipated prosecution of USS Cole terror suspect Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. "This is no garden-variety terrorist," Boehner said. "This is a terrorist who has the blood of 17 American soldiers on his hands. This is the terrorist who worked hand-in-hand with one of the 9/11 hijackers. And the commander of the USS Cole, who has fought for justice alongside the families of the fallen soldiers, has said the Obama administration is blatantly playing politics with this issue. And when it comes to holding those who kill innocent American responsible for their heinous acts, politics should be the last thing on our mind."
- The administration has yet to develop a clear strategy of the circumstances under which it will detain, arrest, and interrogate different types of suspects. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are a nation at war," he said. "A patchwork of political promises does not represent a coherent strategy to confront and defeat the terrorist threat."
- Iran is “the true source of instability in the region," Boehner said, adding that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
- Regarding the nation's economic woes, Boehner noted that unemployment among veterans is 11 percent. "That is why I have called on my colleagues in the Congress and the president to join me in supporting a series of immediate actions to end the ongoing economic uncertainty and help more Americans find an honest day’s work. ‘Stimulus’ spending sprees, permanent bailouts, federal mandates and government takeovers have failed this nation and have failed our veterans.”
- Israel is "an isle of freedom surrounded by a sea of oppression and hate," he said, and urged the administration to stick by its friends. "You do not send a message of strength to your enemies by shunning your friends and allies.”
Boehner also drew applause when he said: "The foreign policy of the United States should not be built on a platform of apologies, corrections, and reset buttons."
And he cautioned that the recent rancorous, public debates could hurt U.S. foreign policy.
"After years of hard fighting, which has come at a high price, we cannot afford to underestimate the impact of domestic debates and political hedging, and what that will have on decisions made by friend and foe alike.
"If we're successful in accomplishing our goals in Afghanistan, it will be because of the endurance, the discipline, and the patience of our troops," Boehner said.
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