President Barack Obama addressed the country on national television Tuesday night to mark the formal end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Though 50,000 troops remain in the country, this long-sought moment, which Obama made a central plank of his presidential campaign, is widely seen as a welcome end to the seven-year conflict that has killed 4,400 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Here's what pundits have to say about Obama's speech and his handling of the ongoing problems of Iraq.
- Kicking Off Near-Impossible Mideast Trifecta The New York Times' David Sanger frames Obama's Iraq speech within a three-prong Middle East plan: Peacefully leave Iraq, negotiate Israel-Palestine peace, and deter a nuclear Iran, all "in hopes of creating a virtuous cycle in a region prone to downward spirals. History shouts that all the odds are against him. White House officials, eager to show concrete progress on the hardest foreign policy challenges at a time when Mr. Obama is struggling with a variety of domestic issues, contend that that the president has changed the political climate in all three arenas and has the best shot in years at creating positive and interlocking results. ... While Mr. Obama’s thinking contains elements of the logic that drove his predecessors, there are also some critical differences, and success or failure hinges on how significant those turn out to be. Those differences include evidence that the United States is truly pulling out of Iraq, far tougher sanctions on Iran and the tentative emergence of a working Palestinian government in the West Bank."
- Addressed Worrisome Iraqi Political Deadlock Professor and blogger Juan Cole writes, "Urging the Iraqis to form a government quickly when the US is delaying things by attempting to install its favorite, Iyad Allawi, in power or at least in power over the security forces, leaves the audience thinking that the fault lies with the Iraqis rather than with continued American interventionism. Presumably Iraqis will eventually form a government. But with the US gone, as it soon will be militarily, will Iraq have any further elections? Is it doomed to a long-term cycle of hung parliaments where there is no majority? I am not sure where ‘accountability’ comes into this process. In any case, this passage seemed to put a brave face on a disastrous political stagnation."
- Linking Iraq to Domestic Issues The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notes that Obama connected the war to today's most pressing political issue: the economy. "Narrative is a Beltway term. Story is not. Obama is telling a story here: one of the reasons why we are in this predicament is because we've spent nearly a trillion dollars fighting a war he did not need to. He wants to use this moment to try and anchor people's perceptions about the economy in a history that stretches beyond the near-collapse of the stock market and the bailouts and the stimulus package."
- Should Have Noted Iraqi Death Toll The American Prospect's Adam Serwer writes, "The most disappointing part of the speech was that the president failed to acknowledge the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of the war. Doing so would not have diminished his tribute towards American servicemembers, but it would have been a helpful reminder that treating the rest of the world like a game of RISK has real human consequences. Unlike the president's refusal to reargue the war, his failure to acknowledge the suffering of Iraqi civilians -- more than an estimated 100,000 of whom died as a result -- is an inexcusable omission."
- Hawks Should Approve of Speech The Weekly Standard's William Kristol, one of the architects of the 2003 invasion, writes, "In sum, the president seemed to me to go about as far as an anti-Iraq war president could go in praising the war effort. ... The president's discussion of the fight against al Qaeda seemed to me adequate, given that he was not simply going to renounce the July 2011 transition date. ... The rest of the (brief) discussion of world affairs was pedestrian. The little pep talk about our economy and the commitment to helping veterans were relatively inoffensive."
- 'Learned Nothing' from Lessons of Foolhardy Invasion The New Republic's Andrew Bacevich says Obama ignored the failure and folly of the 2003 invasion. "So the Americans are bowing out, having achieved few of the ambitious goals articulated in the heady aftermath of Baghdad’s fall. The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation, and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget. Back in Iraq, meanwhile, nothing has been resolved and nothing settled. ... The United States leaves Iraq having learned nothing."
- Low Point for Obama The New Yorker's George Packer fumes, "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. ... 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."
Speech would have been better if Obama had fast-roped onto WH lawn, snapped a terrorist's neck, finished w/ Star Spangled Banner on guitar
If Obama had said everything people say he should have said, today they'd be complaining that he talked too long.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.