Please welcome to the blog contributor Bertel King, Jr. You can find out more about him at the About page.
The two things that stick with me the most from Obama’s speech last night both came at the end: that “some [American soldiers] were teenagers when the war began” and that the 4,000-plus people who died in Iraq had worked alongside the “nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq.” To me, those are sad figures for what was ultimately a mistake. However, the decision to invade was not Obama’s, nor was the decision to withdraw, so I will search the speech for what I thought was worth commending the president:
Yes, what was one of the biggest attack points used by conservatives during the 2008 election is what I consider Obama’s best strength. The man can speak, and when he does it he speaks in a way that will not haunt America for years to come and ruin our credibility around the world. Following are a few bite-sized chunks of his speech.
Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.
I felt that this claim was necessary. While I question those who declare that we have won in Iraq, I do see some reason to be proud of the military’s accomplishments thus far (though I do think it is ironic that a victory for our mighty military is to be able to get out of a mess that it started with some dignity intact). However, never again should the United States declare “Mission Accomplished” prematurely, and Obama has made it explicitly clear that there will still be combat ahead.
… I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.
This is a post-partisan moment for Obama. Politically, it’s safe to bash Bush — even conservatives do it. But Obama has chosen the high road. And in doing so, he has bucked against the conservative tactic of branding politicians who disagree as traitors, a tactic that helped Bush defeat Kerry in 2004 and prevented Democrats from gaining a majority in Congress at the time. Obama has chosen not only to stand up for his fellow Democrats, but to make the respectable decision to honor those politicians who disagree with his policies.
Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who-under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.
Here Obama learns from the mistakes of Kennedy, Johnson and Bush. Afghanistan will not be another Vietnam. We cannot afford to stay in a country once we’ve realized it is hopeless. There are good things that can come out of the war in Afghanistan, but if it becomes clear that they’re not going to happen, or that the ability to accomplish them lies not in our hands but rather the Afghani’s, than we need to count our losses and leave. America has more to lose from its drudging economy and crippled credibility than from the Taliban at this point.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.”
I think this paragraph sums up what has been and will be the Obama legacy. Bush was a war president, and while Obama has inherited both wars they are not where his priorities lie. His efforts have been on domestic issues — economic recovery, health care, tax cuts — and his ambitions remain domestic — energy reform, education reform, economic recovery. Obama hasn’t charted a new path when it comes to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he doesn’t have to. They will bring themselves to an end with time, and they will never be his babies. With the economy in the shape that it’s in, Obama has bigger fish to fry.
You can read the entire text of Obama’s Tuesday night speech here.
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