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WASHINGTON — In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama has planned the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, ordered the doubling of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, promised more money for troops’ training and proposed an overhaul of funding for major defense systems.

And the military hasn’t even been his main focus.

Instead it’s the economy, where the White House has committed trillions of dollars to stabilize and revitalize U.S. banking and industry. Those efforts were the focus of every presidential weekly address for the first two months Obama was in office, and they have dominated his dealings with Congress so far.

But experts say they’re surprised not only with the number of military moves so early in Obama’s presidency, but also the scope of those decisions.

Overseas deploymentsThe decisions on troop moves, while perhaps having the most effect on individual servicemembers, likely haven’t shocked anyone. As a candidate, Obama promised to draw down troops from Iraq and build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the recent proposals follow those pledges.

Critics still insist specific timelines for the Iraq withdrawal take away the military’s flexibility to respond to threats there. Gary Schmitt, a defense scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called Obama’s plan so restrictive that "there’s almost no way to make an alteration if you need some wiggle room."

But supporters and the Democrat-controlled Congress have praised the measure, calling it the first major step toward ending both wars.

Nearly as significant as those policy decisions, historians say, was Obama’s trip to Iraq on April 7. It was the first time a sitting president met with troops overseas during his first 100 days in office, and it’s only one of a few occasions in which a commander in chief directly addressed the military at all early in his first term.

Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and an expert on presidential travel, said any visit by a sitting president is an indication of the administration’s priorities, because "a president’s scarcest asset is his time."

A trip to Iraq — a much larger time commitment than a simple day trip to a stateside base — sends a strong message about the focus the White House will keep on deployed troops, he said.

Veterans affairsVeterans groups have given Obama early high marks for his time spent discussing their issues. Retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, said he and a number of other veterans leaders have been invited to the White House twice already to discuss concerns and ideas.

"As a candidate, he had people over here talking to us, so I’m encouraged that has continued now," he said. "He’s given us a chance to say our piece and listened to what we had to say."

The White House ran afoul of veterans groups in March after news reports revealed a proposal to charge veterans’ private medical insurance for combat-related injuries. The plan, which aimed to save the Department of Veterans Affairs money, was quickly scuttled after an outcry from organizations like MOAA and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But Bob Wallace, executive director of the VFW, said in the end he was impressed how the whole controversy played out.

"They stubbed their toe on that one," Wallace said. "But once it bubbled up, the president called us in, listened to our concerns and decided against it. What encouraged me the most was that the president himself got involved to fix it."

Craig Roberts, spokesman for the American Legion, said he was less impressed with how Obama "distanced himself" from the controversy surrounding a recently released Department of Homeland Security report that warned that returning veterans could be recruited by right-wing extremist groups.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano publicly apologized for the wording in the report, but Roberts said he was concerned by the president’s silence on the matter.

Still, Roberts said improved funding for the VA has been a positive step. And dozens of veterans groups have praised Obama’s plan to develop a lifelong electronic military health record, as a way to cut down on doctors visits and errors as troops move from military health care to veterans health care.

"We’ve been pushing for that for years," Wallace said. "For the first time, now it feels like those [lifelong medical records] are going to happen."

Time with the troopsDavid Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, said Obama will enjoy a better relationship with the active-duty ranks than President George W. Bush did, in part because he’s put more of an emphasis on those troops.

Incorporating both the Iraq trip and a speech before Marines in North Carolina into his first 100 days shows a focus on not just military issues but on troops’ concerns and quality of life, said Brendan Doherty, an expert on presidential travel.

Abshire, who served as a special counselor to President Ronald Reagan, added that first lady Michelle Obama’s involvement with military families has further emphasized those issues.

"They’re both much more engaged with the troops than Bush," he said. "For everything Laura Bush did, she didn’t interact with these families in the same way.

"[The Obamas] seem to have a stronger feeling for the military. There’s no reason for them to have that identity, but they’re both really working with them."

Abshire conceded that could just be a politically shrewd move by the first couple, since neither has a military background.

The president was an outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in Iraq during his time in the Senate, and now he’s faced with sending those same servicemembers into Afghanistan in greater numbers.

"But whether it’s a savvy move or not, it is a compassionate move," he said. "He at least is listening to the enormous sacrifice these people are facing."

Abshire said because of that focus and interaction he sees little chance for a major gaffe like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous "You go to war with the army you have" meeting with troops in Iraq.

"He knows what the troops’ complaints are," Abshire said.

Budget battlesAnalysts said the most surprising military move by the president was the defense budget overhaul announced April 6.

In February, Obama received a loud cheer from Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., when he called for a 2.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel next year. But military planners have been less excited about ambitious cuts in major weapons systems — such as the F-22 Raptor and Army Future Combat System vehicles — in favor of personnel and training projects.

Dale Herspring, author of "The Pentagon and Presidential Authority," said he was surprised by the confidence Obama showed in making the moves so early in his presidency.

"He’s listening to these military leaders, but there’s no question who is boss," Herspring said. "He’s making these decisions on programs without paying attention to who has what in their own backyard."

Herspring said he thinks that will build respect for the new president among Pentagon leaders, showing both his openness to new ideas and his decisiveness.

But Jim Weidman, spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, called the moves "more of a budget-driven strategy than a strategy-driven budget," and said he believes cuts to programs such as missile defense and aircraft production will come across as poorly thought-out moves to satisfy political whims.

"This isn’t just getting rid of Cold War weapons," he said. "We’re talking about major program changes with little to no debate."

Congress will have the final say on those matters, when both chambers take up the defense budget details next month.

Lawmakers have promised to carefully scrutinize those cuts, and Herspring said that fight could come to define Obama’s long-term relationship with military leaders angry over losing pet programs.

Looking aheadTerry Sullivan, executive director of the White House Transition Project, said the first 100 days don’t necessarily predict what presidents will focus on in the next 1,300 days of their first term. So experts can’t say one trip overseas to visit troops will translate into frequent visits at military bases by the commander in chief.

The research project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has spent the last 11 years studying presidential responsibilities and transfer of power. Sullivan said researchers at the project do know that over the last 75 years U.S. presidents have typically spent about 9 percent of their time in office dealing with military issues.

"That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s the third-largest one behind global diplomacy (11 percent) and the White House decision-making process (10 percent)," Sullivan said. "So if you take that administrative stuff out, the military has been the No. 2 priority for the White House."

So the chance of the military dropping in importance is low, especially given the commitment in Afghanistan, Sullivan said.

"The president is the commander in chief," he said. "It’s always a responsibility that they take very seriously."

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