FORT BLISS – President Obama told several hundred troops with the 1st Armored Division here that he kept his promises as commander in chief during the past three and a half years, ending the war in Iraq, drawing down forces in Afghanistan and redoubling care for returning veterans.
His record, he said, was proof that he can be trusted at the helm for four more years.
“I told the American people that all our troops would be out of Iraq by the end of ,” Obama said. “At the time I know some folks didn’t believe me. They were skeptical. Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics. But I meant what I said.”
“Two years ago I also told you that we’d keep up the fight in Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you the truth. This is still a very tough fight…. Just as in Iraq, we are going to end this war responsibly.”
The message, coming on the heels of the Republican National Convention and exactly two years after the U.S. ended combat operations in Iraq, was as much an appeal to war-weary voters as it was to the troops he leads. Both constituencies are seen as key voting blocs by Obama’s re-election campaign.
As Obama spoke, his top aides pointed out that campaign rival Mitt Romney made no mention of war – or the troops – in his prime time convention address on Thursday night. It was the first time since 1952 that a Republican nominee failed to mention war, even as the U.S. remains engaged in its longest, according to a review of historical transcripts by the Associated Press.
“In an almost 45-minute speech, Romney didn’t find a moment to mention our troops in Afghanistan or how we’re providing for our veterans when they return home,” said senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod. “So American people last night didn’t get any straight answers from Mitt Romney. They got nothing but evasion, distraction and insults.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that he was “surprised” that Romney failed to “mention the 70,000 men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, executing a mission that is profoundly important to America’s national security in a conflict that was the direct result of an attack on the United States by al Qaeda.”
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams noted that on Wednesday the governor addressed the American Legion national convention, a group whose invitation Obama declined.
“The Obama campaign’s attack on Governor Romney today is another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission,” Williams said.
Polls show dwindling public support for the Afghanistan war, with 66 percent of voters in a May AP-GfK poll saying the U.S. should not be involved in the conflict anymore. Only 37 percent of Republicans supported continuing war operations in Afghanistan, the poll found.
Obama has implemented a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, with all American troops set to be out of the country by 2014.
The president last visited Ft. Bliss two years ago – Aug. 31, 2010 – to announce the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. Sixteen months later the final U.S. troops withdrew from that country after nearly a decade of war. Nearly 4,500 Americans died in the Iraq War, including 198 from the 1st Armored Division based at Fort Bliss.
“When I was here last I made you a pledge. I said that as president, I will insist that America serves you and your families as well as you’ve served us,” Obama told the troops. “And there again, I meant what I said.”
Earlier Friday, Obama signed an executive order to expand mental health services and suicide prevention efforts for veterans and military families.
“I know that you join me in saying to everyone who’s ever worn the uniform, If you’re hurting, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help. It’s a sign of strength,” he said.