When President Obama speaks at Fort Bragg Wednesday, Dec. 14, the focus will be on two very different battlegrounds. Obama is expected to speak about the end of the war in Iraq before an audience of Fort Bragg soldiers and their families.
By coming to Fort Bragg, Obama will be making yet another visit to a state that is important to his re-election bid in 2012.
"It's a battleground in a different war," said Michael Munger, a professor of political science at Duke University.
Obama's visit will be his fifth to North Carolina since December 2010 but his first to Fayetteville or Fort Bragg since he was the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In Obama's last visit to Fayetteville, he held a rally at the Crown Coliseum two weeks before the 2008 election. About 10,000 people attended.
Today's visit will involve a much smaller crowd. Obama will speak to more than 200 men and women at the 440th Structural Maintenance Hangar on Fort Bragg. The audience will consist mostly of soldiers who recently served in Iraq.
More than 200 Fort Bragg soldiers have died in Iraq since the invasion in 2003. More than 1,000 soldiers -- including about 800 members of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team -- are still stationed there.
Other Fort Bragg units that have been in Iraq recently include the 20th Engineer Brigade, 82nd Sustainment Brigade, 50th Signal Command, 1st Theater Sustainment Command and the 18th Airborne Corps.
The last U.S. troops are expected to be out of Iraq within days.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday, Obama acknowledged the hard work and sacrifices made by U.S. troops in Iraq.
"When I took office, nearly 150,000 American troops were deployed in Iraq, and I pledged to end this war, responsibly," Obama said. "Today, only several thousand troops remain there, and more are coming home every day.
"This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays," Obama added. "In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high. After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month."
An untold number of Iraqis have died and more than 1 million Americans -- military and civilian -- have served in the country, he said.
This will be the second time Obama has visited North Carolina to mark a significant milestone in the war in Iraq.
In February 2009, he traveled to Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base to announce that he would end combat operations in Iraq by August 2010.
Munger, the political science professor, said Obama's latest visit fits in with an ongoing campaign strategy that has the president and his Cabinet focusing on battleground election states rather than trying to sway congressmen on policy.
"He's conceded the policy war and wants to win the election war," Munger said.
The thinking, Munger said, is that the president wants to hold off on policy battles until a new, friendlier Congress might be in place.
"He likes campaigning," Munger said. "He likes speaking for audiences that cheer for him."
But Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution expects a much more subdued and somber speech from the president today.
"It's a moment of national recovery and healing," O'Hanlon said. "The best thing he can do is just thank the troops. A restrained tone would serve him well."
O'Hanlon said the end of the war in Iraq is a bittersweet celebration for the Obama administration. While the war is ending, that is partly due to a failure to negotiate with the Iraqi government on an agreement for a continued U.S. presence.
"I'm not a big critic of where we are," O'Hanlon said, "but it's a bit of a mixed outcome."
Obama's recent attention to North Carolina is unprecedented, Munger said.
In addition to the president himself, there have been more than 20 visits by Cabinet members in the past year, according to records kept by Duke University. Just last Saturday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at Fayetteville State University's winter graduation.
First lady Michelle Obama will accompany the president on his visit. Also appearing will be state and local dignitaries, including Gov. Bev Perdue.
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