Obama Oval Office Speech Reaction

JEREMY FUGLEBERG: A promise kept, Pres. Obama said in his speech to the nation about the Iraq war.

United States combat troops are out of Iraq, although 50,000 “advise and assist” troops still remain and the US will likely help keep Iraq together for quite some time.

While on the campaign trail, Obama the candidate promised just such a removal of troops and continued support for Iraq. Unlike during his campaign, Obama didn’t spend any time tonight discussing the thoroughly unsettled state of Iraqi politics — the situation that continues to embroil Iraq in an uncertain future.

Obama seemed to want his viewers to place Iraq into a historical context and he helpfully used his televised speech to write their first draft of the Iraq chapter of history. The battles are over, he said. Turn the page about whether the decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong, he said. Support the troops, he said.

Yet for a speech supposedly dedicated to a major foreign policy issue, Obama generally avoided placing Iraq in any sort of larger context of US interests or goals for the world.

He spoke of securing interests and standing by allies and projecting a vision of hope, and he did tell television viewers “the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.” Yet he refrained from defining critical US interests or his vision for the globe.

Obama clearly wanted to put paid to Operation Iraqi Freedom and shift attention to Afghanistan and the domestic economic situation, and in a cautious way, he accomplished that. Yet he missed a prime opportunity to enunciate his vision for the world and how the two wars he inherited fit into that vision.

His was a short speech filled with many issues not easily covered in a few short minutes. It was the speech he needed to make, a speech that provided a political pivot point for the next stage in Iraq.

Yet it was a speech that could’ve been much, much more.

HOWARD MEGDAL: In a speech with much discussion of the war in Iraq and the economy, it is three paragraphs about Afghanistan that I think provides the real news of the night.

Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, Al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen Al Qaeda leaders -and hundreds of Al Qaeda’s extremist allies-have been killed or captured around the world.

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.

Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power -including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example -to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes -a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.

With these words, President Obama tied the departure from Afghanistan to the departure from Iraq. More to the point, he tied his vow to leave Afghanistan to his vow to leave Iraq. Nothing in this speech says anything about staying in Afghanistan. This strikes me as a tell of the first order.

The President’s speech last December provided both a surge and a parachute out of Afghanistan if the war didn’t improve. Nearly every piece of news coming out of the country since, of course, has been universally awful.

Tonight provided the clearest indication yet that either President Obama recognizes this reality, sees that he isn’t likely to have the support of his own party in Congress on this war by next year, or possibly a combination of the two.

Either way, for someone who supported him in part because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, and supports him still despite opposing his current policy in Afghanistan, the one-two discussion of ending both wars in similar terms was refreshing.

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