WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - When former President George W. Bush addressed the U.S. Congress in January 2008 he gave three pages of his speech to the Iraq war. On Tuesday night his successor Barack Obama spoke a single sentence.
“We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war,” Obama said in his first speech to Congress since being elected on Jan. 20.
What a difference a year makes. When Bush delivered his last state of the union address, the United States was only beginning to feel the effects of the mortgage crisis. Twelve months on it is in the midst of a full-blown recession.
Obama has acknowledged that how he handles the recession will define his presidency, so foreign policy got little time in a speech that focused overwhelmingly on reassuring Americans the United States would survive the economic crisis.
Obama’s sole Iraq sentence underlined how a recession that has cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs has eclipsed a six-year-old war in which 4,250 U.S. soldiers have died and that once was a key issue in the presidential campaign.
When Bush addressed Congress a year ago it was to trumpet the success of his decision to send 30,000 troop reinforcements to Iraq to help quell raging sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that threatened civil war.
Bush warned against withdrawing U.S. forces too quickly, citing his top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, as saying that could endanger the hard-won security gains.
With Iraq having held largely violence-free provincial elections last month, Obama wants to begin withdrawing many of the 140,000 U.S. troops still there as quickly as possible and end a war that has been a huge drain on the U.S. Treasury.
U.S. officials said on Tuesday he was likely to order U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraq over a period of 19 months, three months longer than he had pledged during his campaign for the White House.
In his speech, Obama reminded Americans they were still fighting another war — in Afghanistan, where he has ordered 17,000 troops to help NATO-led forces arrest a sharply deteriorating security situation while his administration conducts a review of U.S. strategy there. (Editing by Howard Goller)