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Obama's lame speeches on economy, Iraq

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
  • President Obama made two speeches in first two days after vacation
  • Ed Rollins says the president's speech on economy had no new ideas
  • Rollins says speech on Iraq left questions unanswered
  • He says it doesn't make sense to blame our economic problems on the Iraq war

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He is a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations firm. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- In the first two days back from his Martha's Vineyard family vacation, President Obama gave two speeches on two important subjects.

The first was a four-minute address from the Rose Garden on Monday on the economy. This was obviously a quickly thrown together speech to let the country know that even though the economic indicators, to quote the Washington Post, "trended from bad to worse" while the president golfed and relaxed, his team was aware of them.

We all come back a little rusty, and hopefully relaxed, from our vacations, and certainly the president and his family are entitled to theirs. But this speech offered nothing new on the most important subject of concern to voters, who in two months may alter the political makeup of the Congress and change the way this president can do things for the remainder of his term.

The president slammed the Republicans one more time. This is his campaign theme, and obviously it isn't working. Besides, the more he blames the Republicans, the more difficult it will be to work with them in January, when they may have a majority or at least a lot more clout in the Congress.

Video: Obama: Turn page in Iraq
Video: Obama: Urgent task on economy
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Saying his economic team was working on identifying new ways to boost the economy, the president said he would provide details "in the days and weeks to come." It raises the obvious question: What has the administration been doing in the weeks and months just past?

It may not matter if the administration proposes any new measures on the economy, especially if they would require a vote in Congress.

I can promise you, Mr. President, in the heat of a campaign battle royal -- in which your congressional team is on the brink of a disaster unlike any that Democrats have faced since 1994 -- in the "days and weeks ahead," they are going to be focused on doing nothing except trying to get re-elected and running as far from you and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as possible.

The second speech was given from the newly decorated Oval Office on Tuesday night in prime time. It was to celebrate the "Campaign Promise Kept": the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

I couldn't quite figure out what the speech was about. Our combat troops moved out of the cities of Iraq last summer and haven't been in real combat since the success of the surge much earlier. There still isn't a functioning government there and may not be for months to come.

Mr. President, you need to fill in the blanks about what you meant when you said, "Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not."

It was appropriate to thank our troops and military leadership. It was a nice gesture to tell the country that George W. Bush supported our troops and loved our country, and obviously was committed to our national security.

It would have even been more appropriate to say that the program he and Secretary Robert Gates laid out is the one the president implemented without change, and it seems to have worked.

It would have been an accurate statement to remind people that we were withdrawing our troops because of a Status of Forces agreement signed in December 2008 by Bush and Iraq President Nuri al-Maliki to do so -- and not because Obama had promised this in his campaign.

The Iraq government insisted that we withdraw all of our forces by December 31, 2011. I hope we can. We certainly will know by then whether the Iraq government can stabilize and whether the Iraq army and police can keep the peace.

If not, the president has another tough decision to make. We signed an armistice in Korea in July 1953 -- and we still have nearly 30,000 troops there. Let's hope that's not the outcome here.

The president said: "Now is the time to turn the page."

But, as in his speech on the economy, he raised several issues that will need to be clarified "in the days and weeks ahead."

He gave the clear impression that now that we are finished with the "bad war" in Iraq, his term we can focus on the good war, Afghanistan.

"Because of the drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense [in Afghanistan]."

I am sure that the more than 100,000 troops fully engaged under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus already think they are on the offense and didn't realize they were being bogged down by Iraq.

But the president couldn't leave it there. He had to return to politics, because every speech will be political between now and November 2. He went on to say:

"As we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home [jobs, deficits, energy independence and education] with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad."

The war was expensive, not only in terms of the soldiers who were killed and injured but in the trillion-plus dollars spent on it. But if the president thinks the nation and the world are in this economic mess because of a war he didn't want to fight and didn't support, we are in worst shape than I thought.

We still have expensive obligations to those men and woman who so bravely served us. It's not like we can close down the Pentagon and use that money to build more buildings to house Energy and Education Department employees.

Now that Iraq is fixed -- and in a few weeks we will hear how the president and his team plan to get the economy moving again -- we now move on to solving the crisis in the Middle East. Lots of luck!

Like most Americans, I want my president's focus to be on the economy.

In a few short weeks, we Americans get to exercise our voice and vote for a new Congress.

I promise our voice and our message will be a lot clearer than these two pedestrian speeches the president just made.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.