Obama Got Us Out of Iraq, but Voters Just Don't Care Anymore


Although it was a signature issue for Sen. Obama during his campaign, President Obama won't get much political capital for following through on his promise.


The leitmotif of Sen. Barack Obama's early presidential campaign was the inherent wrongness of the war in Iraq and how it represented to him the protuberant ineptitude of the Bush Administration and the Washington establishment that enabled it. Obama liked to say that his speech against the Iraq war in Chicago in October 2002 was a brave stand at the time. True, it ran contrary to the "strong" Democratic position held by party leadership. But it bore little risk because at the time, he was considered a non-too-promising Senate candidate and certainly had no one pining to vault him to higher office. Indeed, liberals at the time opposed the war. Barack Obama was a liberal.

Don't question his prescience and judgment: most of the country would later move toward his position. And he got lucky: the war was so bad, as Democrats began to think about running for president in 2006 and 2007, that the new charismatic young senator from Chicago had a perfect answer to inevitable questions about his lack of experience.

In the campaign, he promised to fight the right war -- in Afghanistan, against core Al Qaeda -- and end the wrong war, Iraq, an evocation of a phrase he used in that Chicago speech:

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

If you can, read Obama's speech back then. His language is his own, although less varnished, and full of taunts.

Today, his campaign web site features a video of his stirring speech to soldiers at Ft. Bragg, and then a video looking back his consistent statements against the war.

To be sure, which is a phrase used by journalists then they're attempting to balance a point, the withdrawal of all American troops might not have been possible without the president's decision to supplement JSOC's insurgent campaign with David Petraeus's surge -- President Bush's decision. Nor would it be feasible without the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush.

But Obama correctly foresaw the consequences of the Iraq war nine years ago, and has, as president, figured out how to end it. That's to his credit.

But what a difference a decade makes: our collective appreciation for soldiers aside.... Iraq isn't on the front pages anymore, and won't be.

Image: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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