White House Press Secretary Previews President Obama's Prime-Time Speech : The Two-Way The White House press secretary spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about the change of command in Iraq, the U.S. economy, the midterm elections, and the president's speech tonight.
NPR logo White House Press Secretary Previews President Obama's Prime-Time Speech

White House Press Secretary Previews President Obama's Prime-Time Speech

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at the daily briefing at the White House yesterday. Susan Walsh/Associated Press hide caption

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Susan Walsh/Associated Press

After a trip to Fort Bliss, President Obama will use a prime-time address from the Oval Office to mark the formal end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

In some ways, it is an ambiguous milestone. The Pentagon will change the name of the mission to "Operation New Dawn," and Gen. Ray Odierno will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, but tens of thousands of troops will remain in Iraq.

In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said "one of the things [the president] will truly celebrate is the tremendous sacrifice that so many men and women in uniform have made over the years."

It is also a turning point for Iraqis, he said.

They’re going to write their history. They’re going to write their future.

He expressed confidence in the capability and readiness of Iraqi security forces, and indicated that the U.S. has no plans to stay in Iraq longer than expected.

"Our plans as of right now are to enforce the Standard of Forces Agreement," Gibbs said. That calls for all U.S. military to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

During the interview, he acknowledged the lack of political progress in Iraq, adding that Vice President Joe Biden is on the ground in Baghdad "to further help this process along."

Some six months after national elections, feuding political factions have not come to an agreement on how to form a government in Iraq.

Asked about the U.S. economy, Gibbs said that while it is on "a different trajectory" than it was last year, there are still some signs of positive economic growth.

In July, during a now-infamous appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, the press secretary seemed to paint a not particularly rosy picture of the Democratic Party's prospects in the upcoming midterm elections:

"There’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control," he said then.

Today, almost two months away from Nov. 2, Gibbs gave a more-optimistic answer:

I think we're going to have very competitive elections in the fall. I think that, when all the votes are counted in November, Democrats will retain control of both the House and the Senate.