How Obama's Kabul speech was like Bush's infamous Iraq carrier-landing, and how it wasn't.
Let's be clear: Flying abruptly to Kabul to announce that the end "is now within our reach" against a backdrop of military vehicles on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death is nothing like landing on a carrier bearing a "Mission Accomplished" banner to say you've whupped the Iraqis.
Or is it? As President Obama's top aides were at pains to stress, there were compelling strategic reasons for him to go to Afghanistan that had nothing to do with 2012 politics. The two nations had recently finished 20 hard months of negotiations over long-term strategic partnership that Republicans and Democrats alike agree is necessary. Both Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had wanted to ink the accord in Kabul before the NATO summit in late May. It was also somehow "resonant," as one Obama aide said, that such an accord should be announced and signed on the same day that the man responsible for America's involvement in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, had died. "The [9/11] attacks began our involvement in Afghanistan ... the war we are seeking to end responsibly today," said a senior administration official. "It was always the president's intention to spend this anniversary with our troops."
But it is also appropriate, perhaps, to compare Obama's surprise trip to George W. Bush's notorious--and embarrassingly premature--political stunt in 2003. Because Obama himself, in his speech Tuesday night, seemed to want to remind Americans of that earlier moment, and more broadly of his predecessor's failed effort at war, as a way of contrasting his own putative success at it.