Combat Troops in Everything But Name Remain

by Conor Friedersdorf

The best thing you'll read about President Obama's speech on Iraq is here, and I'd like to associate myself with everything in this excerpt:

What President Obama called the end of the combat mission in Iraq is a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air, and his second Oval Office speech marks a rare moment of dishonesty and disingenuousness on the part of a politician who usually resorts to rare candor at important moments. The fifty thousand troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of next year will still be combat troops in everything but name, because they will be aiding one side in an active war zone. The proclaimed end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has little or nothing to do with the military and political situation in Iraq, which is why Iraqis were barely aware when the last U.S. combat brigade crossed into Kuwait a few days ago. And for most of us, tooexcept, perhaps, those with real skin in the game, the million and a half Iraq war veterans and their familiesthere’s hardly any reality or substance to the moment.

It’s hard to have an honest emotional response or even know what one feels. After seven years of war, the occasion deserves some weight of feeling, but many Americans stopped paying attention a long time ago. And that’s exactly why the President made his announcement: because Americans want the war to be over, have wanted it for years. Tonight he told us what we wanted to hear. August 31, 2010, will go down in history as the day Americans could start not thinking about the war without feeling guilty.

This is not entirely ignoble, by the way.

George Packer goes on to explain why it isn't entirely ignoble. Read it all. I'll just remark on why it is partly ignoble: because even as President Obama spoke, some Marines were preparing to return to Iraq, having been recalled there, despite the fact that their tours were supposed to be over. They'll risk serious injury and death, a fate likely to befall dozens if not hundreds more Americans before we exit that country entirely, and as Mr. Packer observes, the effect of the speech is to give everyone permission to stop thinking about all the men and women who remain fighting.

Should the United States embark on another foolish war of choice, it'll be due partly to the willingness of our elected leaders across two administrations to hide from us the costs of war, and the complicity of the press in their efforts.