PITTSBURGH — Brushing off his "chest-beating" critics, President Barack Obama accused opponents of the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday of being the same people who rushed the U.S. into an ill-fated war in Iraq. As he sought support for the deal from U.S. veterans, he said the deal's foes were merely popping off soundbites that accomplish nothing.
Obama assumed a confident yet combative tone at the Veterans of Foreign Wars' national convention in Pittsburgh, where he also said he was still not satisfied with the care being provided by Department of Veterans Affairs. He cast his decision to pursue diplomacy with Tehran as a move intended to avert the need to send U.S. troops into harm's way with an eventual military strike against Iran's nuclear program.
"The same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq and said it would only take a few months," Obama said.
Obama's 2008 campaign for president centered largely around his opposition to the Iraq War, as he railed against the policies of President George W. Bush. By invoking the Iraq war in the context of the Iran deal, Obama offered a window into the parallels he sees in his efforts to use diplomacy with Iran to avoid getting the U.S. further embroiled in Mideast conflicts.
Yet even Obama has found that keeping the U.S. military out of conflict in Iraq and the violence-prone Mideast is easier said than done. Even as he seeks better relations with Iran, Obama is leading a coalition of countries engaged in a major campaign to rout the Islamic State group, which has exploited a vacuum of power in Iraq and Syria in the wake of the Iraq War and the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Last month, Obama ordered another 450 U.S. troops to Iraq to train Iraqi security forces, in another effort to reverse major advances by IS.
Obama told the audience of veterans — some from the Iraq War — there was "a lot of shaky information out there" about the Iran deal. The White House has been mounting a massive outreach campaign to try to win over skeptics and avert a congressional attempt to scuttle the deal. On Tuesday, the White House created a new Twitter account, @TheIranDeal, to make its case for the accord on social media.
At the VFW convention, the president also highlighted a federal rule he's finalizing on predatory lending and the military. Obama was seeking to make the case to the VFW that he's working to make things better for America's military families. The new rule, Obama said, would crack down on lenders who are "exploiting loopholes to trap our troops."
He also addressed persisting problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been under intense scrutiny for more than a year over long waitlists and other shortcomings in the VA health system. Last week, the VA said it is unable to count how many veterans died while waiting to sign up for health care, and said it may have to close some hospitals if Congress does not address a $2.5 billion shortfall.
Obama said that while significant progress has been made at the troubled agency, "We've got to acknowledge our work is not done. We still have a big challenge" to keep up with the surge in veterans seeking care.
"We're not going to let up," he promised.
Yet Republicans were unimpressed.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said Obama still lacked a plan to change the culture at the VA. Republicans have complained loudly that more VA officials weren't fired in the wake of last year's scandal.
"Instead of more hollow platitudes, the president needs to join House Republicans in working to deliver real accountability and reform for our veterans," Fritz said.
From Pittsburgh, Obama was hopping a quick flight to New York to tape one of Jon Stewart's final episodes of the "The Daily Show," where the Iran deal was once again likely to be a key topic of conversation. He planned to raise money for Senate Democrats at a private home in New York City before returning late Tuesday to Washington.
Associated Press writer Nancy Benac in Washington contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP