Obama On Iraq: “We Have Met Our Responsibility. Now, It’s Time To Turn The Page”

President Obama didn't use the words "Mission Accomplished" last night, but the message was the same.

President Obama gave a rather lackluster address from the Oval Office last night to mark the official end of American combat operations in Iraq:

WASHINGTON — President Obama declared an end on Tuesday to the seven-year American combat mission in Iraq, saying that the United States has met its responsibility to that country and that it is now time to turn to pressing problems at home.

In a prime-time address from the Oval Office, Mr. Obama balanced praise for the troops who fought and died in Iraq with his conviction that getting into the conflict had been a mistake in the first place. But he also used the moment to emphasize that he sees his primary job as addressing the weak economy and other domestic issues — and to make clear that he intends to begin disengaging from the war in Afghanistan next summer.

“We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Mr. Obama said. “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”

Seeking to temper partisan feelings over the war on a day when Republicans pointed out that Mr. Obama had opposed the troop surge generally credited with helping to bring Iraq a measure of stability, the president offered some praise for his predecessor, George W. Bush. Mr. Obama acknowledged their disagreement over Iraq but said that no one could doubt Mr. Bush’s “support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.”

Mr. Obama spoke for about 18 minutes, saying that violence would continue in Iraq and that the United States would continue to play a key role in nurturing a stable democracy there. He celebrated America’s fighting forces as “the steel in our ship of state,” and pledged not to waver in the fight against Al Qaeda.

But he suggested that he sees his role in addressing domestic issues as dominant, saying that it would be difficult to get the economy rolling again but that doing so was “our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.”

I didn’t watch the speech last night, but I did manage to catch it on a replay this morning and I’ve got to agree with Ed Morrissey that it was, at best, uninspiring and dull:

Last night, Obama delivered yet another mediocre performance in what should have been a perfect setting: a war speech as Commander in Chief.  He had the ability to be inspirational and talk of a great victory over tyranny and oppression; instead, he praised the performance of the troops without actually ever explicitly thanking them for it and skipped entirely any notion of victory.  Instead of being gracious and effusive, Obama seemed to want to tamp down any enthusiasm over the effort made over the last several years in Iraq, a curious position for a Commander in Chief to take.

His one reference to his predecessor, who bucked strong opposition from Congress (including Obama) to persevere in the winning surge strategy, was to note that George Bush loved his country and the troops, about as dismissive as one could be without simply ignoring Bush entirely in the speech.  Why bother mentioning Bush at all if that’s what Obama had to say about him?  It sounded very much like an afterthought, a way of checking a box on his way to get to the end of the speech.

Obama then watered down his C-in-C status by oddly interjecting four paragraphs about the economy.  Unlike a State of the Union address that moves cleanly from topic to topic in an omnibus manner, Obama shoehorned this brief speech on economics before returning to veterans affairs and reassuming the C-in-C mantle.  If Obama wanted to give a comprehensive speech on White House policies, that would have been his prerogative, but the speech was billed as a war speech, and Obama went right back to war issues.  Even that would have been a minor point had Obama said anything original to justify it — but instead, we got the usual platitudes and no specifics at all.  Once again, the sense was that of checking boxes on a list.  Bush?  Check.  Economy?  Check.

I can understand why the White House felt the need to include a reference to the economy in last night’s speech. For one thing, the idea that the war itself was diversion from more pressing domestic matters has been a standard Democratic line for quite some time. For another, poll after poll shows that the public cares far more about the economy, and their own personal economic situation, right now than they do about foreign affairs. Given that we’re about to go into the final stages of the mid-term campaign, a message that the nation can now focus on the economy is a natural one.

I’ve got to wonder, though, why the White House felt the need to have the President give this address at all. The situation in Iraq has been on the back burner of the political discussion for more than a year now, and public opinion on the war itself hasn’t shifted all that much during the time that President Obama has been in office. It would have been just as easy for the President to give a short Rose Garden statement, or no statement at all, than to add the prestige of only his second Oval Office address to an issue that hasn’t been on the front burner of American politics for a long time. Nonetheless, Obama spoke last night, not doubt in part to claim for himself some of the sense of “victory” that the Administration is asserting we’ve achieved.

But, have we ?

2,722 days after it started, the Iraq War is officially at an end. We still don’t know what it’s ultimate impact on the politics or Iraq, the Middle East, or even the United States will be, or whether Iraq will indeed be able to make the transition from authoritarian despotism to representative democracy without further bloodshed. And, as David Harsanayi  notes, there remains an open question as to whether or not the whole enterprise was worth the investment of American blood and treasure that we’ve made over the past seven years:

President Barack Obama claims that the end of the combat mission is no time for victory laps. But the president, who once accused the Bush administration of intentionally sending soldiers to die in Iraq to create a political distraction, now asserts that “America is more secure.”

Are we? It is far-fetched to believe that 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq in a “training and backup role” will be withdrawn by the end of 2011 as scheduled.

Recently, coordinated bombings in 13 cities across Iraq killed more than 70 people and wounded hundreds of others. If the violence continues to escalate, are these 50,000 American troops going to take a “backup role” in Iraq’s ethnic and religious wars?

Doubtful. And less secure.

Our long-term presence in Iraq, in fact, is likely to impede any ability to react militarily to genuine threats. Americans don’t have the appetite for it. So if the Islamic radical leadership of Iran — which many experts believe filled the vacuum left by toppling of Saddam Hussein — is, as many believe, an imminent nuclear threat, we are powerless to stop them.

And if every military action in defense of U.S. interests now comes with an obligatory 10-, 20- or 40-year Marshall Plan, you’ve made it even more politically unpalatable.

There are other questions that make the claim “we’re more secure” highly suspect. If we do leave, where is the evidence that Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter) will blossom into a secular democracy and ally in the war against Islamic radicalism?

Doubtlessly it is Islamophobic to bring this up, but Americans are dying, not only in the war on terror, but also to codify Sharia law. Brooks claims that, in Iraq, “The role of women remains surprisingly circumscribed.” (Surprisingly?) Actually, that’s just a polite way of saying — and I quote directly from the Iraqi Constitution — “Islam is the official religion of the State, and it is a fundamental source of legislation.”

That’s one reason many of us regret our support of the Iraq war. Though I am not reflexively isolationist, I am reflexively suspicious of social engineering. And nation-building is social engineering on the grandest of scales.

The irony, of course, is that George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 against the Clinton/Gore Administration’s legacy of nation-building in places like the Balkans and ended up embarking upon two of the most ambitious exercises in nation-building in history. The prudence of that decision is looking increasingly doubtful.

Update: Here’s the speech if you missed it:

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FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Iraq War, Middle East, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. sam says:

    “Last night, Obama delivered yet another mediocre performance in what should have been a perfect setting: a war speech as Commander in Chief. He had the ability to be inspirational and talk of a great victory over tyranny and oppression; instead, he praised the performance of the troops without actually ever explicitly thanking them for it and skipped entirely any notion of victory”
     
    Uh, well, maybe because:
    1) He’s trying to get us out of two wars
    2) He might believe that any crowing about victory should be left to those on aircraft carrier decks

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    “He had the ability to be inspirational and talk of a great victory over tyranny and oppression; instead, he praised the performance of the troops without actually ever explicitly thanking them for it and skipped entirely any notion of victory.”

    Obviously Ed Morrissey wanted him to land on an aircraft carrier in a GI joe suit and declare victory. There were no victories in what has been arguably the greatest foreign policy debacle in US history. We’ve got 35,000 killed and wounded, the Iraqis probably have ten times that number, a huge bill, and a ton of collateral damage. But Morrissey’s comment is a clear insight into just how deluded these rightwing dopes really are.   

  3. rodney dill says:

    He had the ability to be inspirational and talk of a great victory over tyranny and oppression; instead, he praised the performance of the troops without actually ever explicitly thanking them for it and skipped entirely any notion of victory”

    Any expression of victory would also be in part a Bush victory, and he still needs to blame Bush for any possibility for the Dem’s to hand on for the longterm

  4. john personna says:

    Declare responsibility fulfilled, go home.

  5. Pug says:

    Nonetheless, Obama spoke last night, no doubt in part to claim for himself some of the sense of “victory” that the Administration is asserting we’ve achieved.

    Guess I missed the part where he declared some sense of victory for himself.

    Perhaps he learned something from the aircraft carrier stunt.  It is better in the long run to be a little humble and understated and let lesser lights, like Bill Kristol, declare glorious victory.

    Who the hell knows what will eventually happen in Iraq?

  6. Vast Variety says:

    Doug I’m a little confused, maybe I’m reading your post wrong and misunderstanding something. But you call the speech dull and uninspiring, criticizing the speech for not declaring victory, by quoting another blogger’s response, and then later you criticize him for trying to claim a “sense of victory.” Am I missing something?

  7. What other purpose was there to the speech other than to try to create the impression that the Obama Administration “won” the Iraq War ? That’s what I was criticizing.

    The dull and uninspiring comment comes from the fact that the speech was, on the whole, poorly delivered and not very well written IMO

  8. Mithras says:

    I don’t think it was dull, it was serious.  The last bit was corny, too much so for my taste, but most people like corn. He was speaking to a variety of audiences: Voters, the media, Congress, and Karzai.  Will it work? Who knows? Anyway, welcome to the fall campaign season. Last night was the opening shot.
    By the way, is it just me, or is the link function not working in comments?

  9. Herb says:

    The prudence of that decision is looking increasingly doubtful.

    But as Rodney says…Obama’s gotta blame Bush, not for imprudent decision making or anything, but for political advantage.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Obviously Ed Morrissey wanted him to land on an aircraft carrier in a GI joe suit and declare victory.***

    That would be a bit hard seeing he can barely ride a bike let alone fly a fighter jet, but I think he should have worn that crash dummy helmet last night….

    Heck, I kinda liked the first part of the speech a little…

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 11:13

    “What other purpose was there to the speech other than to try to create the impression that the Obama Administration “won” the Iraq War ? That’s what I was criticizing.”

    Oh dear me. He’s drawing a line under it for godsake and saying not one of our finer moments but lets move on. The very last thing it was was a celebration of victory by the Obama administration or anyone else or why was Morrissey landing one of the biggest carps in history.     

  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    “That would be a bit hard seeing he can barely ride a bike let alone fly a fighter jet, but I think he should have worn that crash dummy helmet last night….”

    I generally avoid ad homs like the plague, but you really are one of the most childish people at times. A disaster with hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and you’re making asinine jokes about bike helmets. 

  13. Vast Variety says:

    What other purpose was there to the speech other than to try to create the impression that the Obama Administration “won” the Iraq War ? That’s what I was criticizing.
    The dull and uninspiring comment comes from the fact that the speech was, on the whole, poorly delivered and not very well written IMO

    I don’t believe that the purpose of the speech was to declare that the war in Iraq was “won”. I do believe that it was far more about moving on from one of our greatest mistakes. I don’t believe that anyone could ever declare vicotry in Iraq now or ever with any credibility.

    Thanks for clarifying that the two remarks were independent of each other.

  14. reid says:

    I didn’t watch the speech.  (I almost never do, no matter who the president is.)  From the sound of things, a lot of the critics see things through a political spectrum.  (Ignoring any critics who are intentionally lying, spinning, etc.)  “Is he going to try to blame Bush?”  “Is he going to take credit for victory?”  Well, maybe he’s just being the president and not calculating every move for political gain?  I suppose to them I’m just being naive for suggesting that, but it does seem to be a problem for a lot of things Obama says and does, even the most mundane.

  15. reid says:

    Sigh, replace spectrum with prism in the previous.  Mind was sort of in the right place….

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The photo shot from the aircraft carrier which stated “mission accomplished” was related to the mission of that aircraft carrier.  A fact lost on those people who suffer from BDS.  You would think most of the commenters here are in a ward of the mental institution specialing in the treatment of BDS and making little progress.  Saddam still in charge in Iraq?  Mission accomplished.  We will never know how many lives were saved by the sacrifice of those who lost their lives to remove the monster named Hussein.  His sons were really poor losers when it come to olympic sports.  The left is infested with cowards and liars.  If you are on the left.  Which are you?  One or both?   
    Obama’s speech sucked.  That is because Obama sucks.  Everything he does sucks and everything he believes in sucks.  All his policies suck.  Everyone who voted for him sucks.  How many days till we fundamentally transform the congress?

  17. Tano says:

    What other purpose was there to the speech other than to try to create the impression that the Obama Administration “won” the Iraq War ?

     
    As others have noted, I think this completely misses the mark. I saw not the slightest indication in the speech that Obama was trying to claim that his administration “won” the Iraq War. I cannot imagine where you got that impression from.
     
    You have a very significant milestone in the drawdown of one of the longest wars in US history – and one of the defining events in terms of how the US acts, and is seen to act on the global stage – and you can’t seem to imagine why the POTUS would feel the need to define the moment for public?
     
    It would have ludicrous to let the moment pass without comment, and would have been inappropriate to relegate any comment to a brief mention in a presser. The President sets the national political agenda, and he felt the need to define the shift from the older status quo equation, to a new one. To outline to the American people how and why our attention has shifted, what the new imperatives are for our security, and how all that fits into an ordered scheme of national priorities.
     
    I thought the speech was serious, sober, and presidential in the best sense. I really admire the way the man handles his role in these situations. He might not have much of a future as a shock-jock entertainer, but I, for one, kinda like that about him.

  18. Herb says:

    Obama’s speech sucked.  That is because Obama sucks.  Everything he does sucks and everything he believes in sucks.  All his policies suck.  Everyone who voted for him sucks.  How many days till we fundamentally transform the congress?

    Is that you, Zels, or your impersonator?

  19. mantis says:

    Obama’s speech sucked.  That is because Obama sucks.  Everything he does sucks and everything he believes in sucks.  All his policies suck.  Everyone who voted for him sucks.
    Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican Party in a nutshell.  Bonus points for whining about BDS in the same comment.  The ironing is delicious.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***I generally avoid idioms like the plague, but you really are one of the most childish people at times. A disaster with hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and you’re making asinine jokes about bike helmets.***

    Are you talking about how liberal run or major cities? I’m making jokes about our pocket picking President not the war he undermined, damn homie….

    And I’m sick of stupid liberals bringing up the lie about Mission accomplished, crap, attack something that’s real once in awhile instead of phantoms from your pc fantasy realm.

    I SAID I KINDA LIKED THE FIRST PART OF THE SPEACH but because you went and made me rember how he got into power I take it back, so there……

  21. mantis says:

     
    And I’m sick of stupid liberals bringing up the lie about Mission accomplished, crap, attack something that’s real once in awhile instead of phantoms from your pc fantasy realm.
    Says the guy writing about bike helmets.

  22. […] Obama On Iraq: “We Have Met Our Responsibility. Now, It’s Time To Turn The Page” (outsidethebeltway.com) […]

  23. Grewgills says:

    Is that you, Zels, or your impersonator?

    Poe’s law at work.

  24. Neo says:

    <i><a href=”http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid=190064″>To begin with</a>, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country’s future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.</i>
    Even AP doesn’t believe Obama’s own words.