President Obama will address the nation live from the Oval Office Tuesday night to mark the shift of American troops in Iraq from a combat role to an advisory role -- but he will have to tread carefully, since he was an early and vocal opponent of the war.
As early as October 2002, half a year before the fighting started, Obama declared Iraq a "dumb war."
The president's chief advisers on Iraq policy, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are also former critics of the war and the surge that was credited with getting Iraq to the secure place it is today.
But the president's old comments about the war will not be what he focuses on Tuesday night.
"Whether you agreed with that decision to go (to Iraq) or not," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday, "the president always believed that his mission was finishing what we had to do to get our men and women out of Iraq, not to re-litigate what happened in 2002 or 2003, but to focus on, first, 2009, and ultimately now, in changing the direction of our mission."
On Tuesday Gibbs told Fox News that while Obama opposed the surge in 2007, he did not doubt that adding 20,000 men and women would improve the security situation.
"But as we know, our efforts in Iraq weren't going to be done simply militarily," Gibbs said. "There had to be a political accommodation. We had sectarian violence between Sunni, Shiite and the Kurd. And quite frankly the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd had to decide they were going to live and work together for an Iraq that met their future needs and not fight each other. I think that's why we're at this moment, and that's what the president is going to mark tonight."
During his weekly radio address on Saturday, the president said he was fulfilling his campaign pledge to end the war in Iraq. But as Obama now walks the fine line of asking the public for patience on Afghanistan, the following are some of the statements he and top Democrats offered about the Iraq war in the six years before his administration came to office in January 2009.
Obama, Oct. 2, 2002:
"What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
"What I am opposed to is the attempt by potential hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income -- to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. ...
"I also know that Saddam possesses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."
July 25, 2004
"This is the first war I think since the Vietnam War where every community, particularly in rural areas and in downstate Illinois, are directly affected. They've got reservists, National Guardsmen, the sons, daughters, uncles, aunts of people who are over there for 18 months. They don't see an exit strategy. I think they're deeply troubled in retrospect about how we got into the war, and I think that one of the most important things that John Kerry is going to have to offer is the ability for his administration to be able to set a new tone, reestablish the kinds of relationships with our allies that allow us to internationalize the reconstruction process, make sure that Iraq succeeds and allow our troops eventually to get out."
Nov. 7, 2004
"We want to see Iraq successful and our troops protected. I do think that presenting a clear, detailed plan that includes an exit strategy and includes how the money is going to be spent would serve the president well."
Oct. 30, 2005:
"We should start phasing out our military presence in Iraq. We have to have a very credible, specific plan to stabilize the country as soon as we can and get out as soon as we can."
Nov. 22, 2005
"We don't necessarily need a timetable, in the sense of a precise date for U.S. troop pullouts, but a time frame for such a phased withdrawal. ... We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from now and the United States armed forces cannot stand up and support an Iraqi government in perpetuity."
Dec 8, 2005
"Having gone in, how do we step back but ensure that theres not such a vacuum that either chaos occurs or jihadists take over critical areas that can make huge problems elsewhere? The irony, of course, is that there really wasn't a terrorist problem before we went in. There is now."
June 21, 2006
"What is needed is a blueprint for an expeditious yet responsible exit from Iraq. A hard and fast, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal offers our commanders in the field, and our diplomats in the region, insufficient flexibility to implement that strategy."
January 14, 2007
"We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops. I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."
Jan. 28, 2008
"I think that the surge has reduced our violence in Iraq. And there's no doubt that that's as a consequence of the bravery and heroism of our soldiers. What we have not seen is the successful renegotiation between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurd that will stabilize the country over the long term. I don't think that's going to happen so long as we have an occupation there."
January 31, 2008
"The Iraq war has undermined our security. We have spent billions of dollars, lost thousands of lives. Thousands more have been maimed and injured as a consequence and are going to have difficulty putting their lives back together again. This has undermined our security. ...
"The one important thing is that we not get mission creep, and we not start suggesting that we should have troops in Iraq to blunt Iranian influence. If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had this government installed in the first place. We shouldn't have invaded in the first place. It was part of the reason that it was such a profound strategic error for us to go into this war. ...
"The notion that somehow we have succeeded as a consequence of the recent reductions in violence means that we have set the bar so low it's buried in the sand at this point. We went from intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government to spikes and horrific levels of violence and a dysfunctional government. Now, two years later, we're back to intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government."
-- Joe Biden, May 1, 2006
"The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact.
"It is increasingly clear that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. Rather, he hopes to prevent defeat and pass the problem along to his successor."
June 3, 2007
"Start to draw down troops immediately and all out by '08. No one has fought harder to change Bush's policy (than I have). Matter of fact, the very language that was vetoed in the bill was language that I and, along with Senator (Carl) Levin, put in, and I suggested over a year ago in a proposal I laid forward, that is, start to draw down troops immediately, have them all out by '08."
Sept. 13, 2007
"I think it's the wrong strategy. We should be drawing down troops now. We should be in the middle of the 2008, down to 30,000 to 40,000 troops with an end date of getting out of there based upon a political settlement where you set up a federal system there."
Sept. 26, 2007
"Everyone says there's no military solution, only a political solution. We offered a political solution today, the Biden plan, and it got 75 votes. It rejected fundamentally the president's position that there's a possibility of establishing a strong central government in Iraq and said we're going to have a federal system. That is the thing that will allow us to come home without leaving chaos behind."
Oct, 8, 2008
"Barack Obama and I agree fully and completely on one thing: You've got to have a timeline to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis. We're spending $10 billion a month while Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it's time for them to spend their own money and have the 400,000 military we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility and gradually over six months -- 16 months, withdrawal."
-- Hillary Clinton, Sept. 11, 2007
"You have been made the de facto spokesmen for what many of us believe to be a failed policy: Despite what I view as your rather extraordinary efforts in your testimony both yesterday and today, I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief."
Jan. 31, 2008
"We have to send several messages at once. We are withdrawing, and I believe that is the best message to send to the Iraqis. That they need to know that they have to get serious, because so far they have been under the illusion that the Bush administration and the Republicans who have more of the same will be there indefinitely."