President Barack Obama portrayed himself as seasoned on foreign policy and Mitt Romney as new to the world stage during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
"You know, in a world of new threats and new challenges, you can choose leadership that has been tested and proven. Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did," he said. "My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly."
Obama then went through a long list of complaints about Romney’s foreign policy views, including this one: "My opponent said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq."
PolitiFact is evaluating other claims from Obama’s speech. Here, we wondered if Obama correctly quoted Romney as saying it was "tragic" to end the war in Iraq.
Back in October 2011, Obama announced that all troops would leave by the end of the year. Obama had always intended to draw down forces in Iraq, but by the end of 2011, the administration couldn’t reach an agreement with the Iraqi government on the size of the residual force. In the final days leading up to withdrawal, the U.S. had about 200 members remaining that operate within the American Embassy, the New York Times wrote.
Romney criticized the withdrawal as too hasty, making comments at a roundtable discussion with veterans on Veterans Day in 2011 at a South Carolina barbecue restaurant. A colonel asked Romney how he would handle the influx of soldiers returning home from Iraq in need of jobs, according to a transcript of the event.
Romney called Obama’s troop removal "an enormous mistake," "a failing," and yes, "tragic."
His complete response: "Yeah. A couple of things. One, you probably know that it is my view that the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year is an enormous mistake and a failing by the Obama administration. Secretary Panetta and others had indicated they were working to put in place a Status of Forces Agreement to maintain our presence there, so that we could most effectively transition to the Iraqi military and Iraqi security forces providing security for their country.
"The precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate. It's more than unfortunate. I think it's tragic. It puts at risk many of the victories that were hard-won by the men and women who have served there. I hope the risk is not realized. I hope instead that the Iraqis are able to pick up the baton, and despite the fact that we will have walked away on a too-rapid basis."
From there, Romney moved on to the issue of jobless veterans (and even praised an Obama initiative to give businesses who hire veterans a tax credit).
By this point, Romney’s disdain for Obama’s Iraq war policy was known for a few weeks. His campaign issued a biting statement when Obama announced his plan to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
"President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women," Romney wrote on Oct. 21, 2011. "The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government."
The Obama campaign countered that Romney lacked a plan to end the war.
Romney’s current campaign website is vague on plans for Iraq. He buries the issue in a topics page about the Middle East, praising George W. Bush’s 2007 "surge" of troops and bashing Obama’s 2011 withdrawal deadline. He makes a reference to reports from field commanders who "recommended a 14,000 to 18,000-strong residual force as the minimum necessary to carry out our transition mission."
"In light of these developments, it is impossible to forecast what conditions in Iraq will confront the next American president in January 2013," Romney states on his website.
We contacted both campaigns for our report. The Obama campaign pointed us to Romney’s remarks at the veterans’ roundtable. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said Obama took Romney’s quote "completely out of context."
According to Obama, Romney "said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq." Romney characterized Obama’s 2011 removal of troops from the country with that word, but he was talking about the pace of the drawdown.
Romney’s point, held by other Republicans, was that Obama’s drawdown happened too quickly and would lead to an unstable transition for Iraq. Romney has said conditions in Iraq are difficult to forecast and he would prefer a larger transitional force.
We rate this claim Half True.
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