Anticipating President Obama's Oval Office address on Iraq tonight, House Minority Leader John Boehner sarcastically thanked Obama for "setting aside" his past rhetoric to embrace the troop surge that is now enabling the U.S. to end combat missions there.
In a speech to the American Legion's national convention in Milwaukee this afternoon, Boehner did express support for the administration's current strategy in Afghanistan -- but he urged the president to avoid focusing on "arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal."
Boehner's speech also touched on tensions in the Middle East, the struggling economy and the ongoing war on terrorism. His remarks included a stern warning about Iran, and he said Israel is on "the front lines of the ideological and violent clash we are confronting."
Obama plans to meet Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before the two meet in direct negotiations with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton later this week.
Said Boehner: "The attacks against [Israel] -- whether through acts of violence, international criticism or manipulation of laws of war -- are often the vanguard of what our country will face." He added, "America has stood by Israel since Harry Truman sat in the Oval Office. Our commitment to this longstanding friendship should be no less strong today."
More generally, Boehner's speech -- on the heels of an address he made on the economy last week -- seemed mostly intended to exhibit his own foreign-policy credos. He also seemed bent on telling Obama and other Washington Democrats not to go too far in trying to take credit for ending the combat mission in Iraq.
On drawing the combat mission in Iraq to a close, Boehner caustically said he wanted "to thank President Obama for setting aside his past political rhetoric and recognizing the importance of the surge and the diplomatic agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki."
He went on: "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," said Boehner. But, he said, "The hard truth is that Iraq will continue to remain a target for those who hope to destroy freedom and democracy."
Afghanistan, Boehner said, "is not just one of 'two wars' -- it is central to the global struggle against extremism and intolerance."
Boehner said he supports the counterinsurgency program there that the administration military leaders have in place.
But he added, "Using campaign promises as a yardstick 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."
He said that Iran is "working to develop a nuclear weapons program" and that, "contrary to the wishful thinking of some, the Iranian regime is capable of doing a cost-benefit analysis of pursuing these weapons in the face of international isolation."
"It is the true source of instability in the region, and we must not naively assume a nuclear-armed Iran would be containable," he said.
Boehner later took issue with what he described as "a patchwork of political promises" that he said do not represent "a coherent strategy to confront and defeat the terrorist threat."
He pointed, in part, to the recent Justice Department announcement that it would not be pursuing charges against the terrorist who allegedly coordinated the bombing of the USS Cole.
"This is no garden-variety terrorist. This is a terrorist who has the blood of 17 American sailors on his hands. This is a terrorist who worked hand in hand with one of the 9/11 hijackers," said Boehner.
"Over the course of the last 20 months," complained Boehner, "it is clear our country's overarching detention policy has been lost.
"We do not know the parameters for when, how, and under what circumstances we will capture, solicit information from, and detain illegal enemy combatants."
Returning to the topic of the economy, Boehner said the country needs a "fresh start so that every man and woman who has donned the uniform of our nation knows that when they leave the service, the opportunity for a good job in the private sector awaits them."
"'Stimulus' spending sprees, permanent bailouts, federal mandates and government takeovers have failed this nation and have failed our veterans," said Boehner.