CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — President Barack Obama announced here Friday that he'll withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, but his plans to leave as many as 50,000 U.S. troops there through 2011 made many Democrats in Congress angry, while Republicans cheered.
It was an ironic reception for a new commander-in-chief whose presidential campaign was built initially on his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it if elected.
"I am deeply troubled by the suggestion that a force of 50,000 troops could remain in Iraq," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. "This is unacceptable."
"I question whether such a large force is needed to combat any al Qaida affiliates in Iraq or whether it will contribute to stability in the region," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
"You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war. You can't be in and out at the same time," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "We must bring a conclusion to this sorry chapter in American history."
The Republican Obama defeated in November for the presidency, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, lauded the plan.
"We have spent enormous amounts of American blood and treasure in Iraq," McCain said. "We are finally on a path to success. Let us have no crisis of confidence now."
McCain said he agrees with Obama that the U.S. should keep 50,000 troops in Iraq after the combat troops leave, following the recommendation of U.S. military commander. He worries, however, about pressure on Obama from Democrats urging a faster withdrawal.
"I worry . . . about statements made by a number of our colleagues indicating that, for reasons wholly apart from the requirement to secure our aims in Iraq, we should aim at a troop presence much lower," McCain said. "The administration should . . . not succumb to pressures, political or otherwise, to make deeper or faster cuts in our force levels."
The Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives — Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio — also issued statements praising Obama's Iraq policy.
In an interview Friday with Jim Lehrer for the "News Hour" on PBS, President Obama was asked whether he was discomfited by praise from Republicans and criticism from Democrats for his Iraq strategy. He said his plan followed what he'd promised during the presidential campaign, with only slight alteration in keeping with advice from his military commanders on the ground, whom he'd promised to consult.
"You know, I don't — I don't make these decisions based on polls or popularity," Obama said. "I make the decisions based on what I think is best. This is consistent with what I said during the campaign. The fact — if anything I think people should be interested in the fact that there's been a movement in the direction of what I thought was going to be the right plan in the first place."
Obama traveled to Camp Lejeune to announce his Iraq policy — which had leaked several days earlier — to a gym full of 2,700 Marines in camouflage uniforms. Some 8,000 Marines at this base near Jacksonville, N.C., will ship out this spring to Afghanistan, where Obama is escalating the U.S. presence.
The president said that, after nearly six years, it's time to end the Iraq war.
"We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars," he said.