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Obama's Unsatisfactory Iraq Speech

President Bush deserves more than just a shout-out.

12:10 PM, Sep 1, 2010 • By FRED BARNES
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There’s a practice among many conservatives of love-bombing liberals who take a few steps in their direction. On the whole, it’s a good practice. The idea is that positive feedback will encourage liberals to move further toward embracing policies that conservatives like. And sometimes that happens.

Obama's Unsatisfactory Iraq Speech

Presidents Obama and Bush.

In President Obama’s case, he’s been treated approvingly (for the most part) by conservatives on his war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is because the policies have been better than most conservatives feared: no precipitous pullout in Iraq, a troop surge in Afghanistan, and the decision to install General David Petraeus as Afghan commander.

And yet I found the president’s speech on Iraq last night to be irritating and unsatisfactory. Not because it marked the end of America’s “combat mission” in Iraq, but because of Obama’s pettiness and self-aggrandizement.

Obama said the military “completed every mission they were given.” But he referred only fleetingly to the troop buildup in 2007 and 2008—the surge—that was a necessary and indispensable part of the ultimate victory. And when he did mention it, he noted the surge was “in place for a limited time”—that is, he used it to justify his July 2011 deadline for the start of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. 

But no surge, no presidential speech from the Oval Office on “ending this war” successfully.  The surge made Obama’s job in dealing with Iraq easy.

By neglecting the importance of the surge, Obama was free to ignore President Bush’s decision to order it in the first place.  Nearly everyone in Bush’s orbit—Obama, the vast majority of Democrats and many Republicans, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, the foreign policy establishment, the media, the Washington echo chamber—was against the surge (initially, at any rate). Bush’s decision to go ahead with it was an act of courage.

Obama exaggerated his role in winding down the war in Iraq, citing his “pledge to the American people as a candidate.”  Then, “last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq…That is what we have now done.”

This is true as far it goes. But the overall pullout from Iraq was put in place before Obama arrived in the White House. It was established by the “status of forces” agreement between the governments of the United States and Iraq that was negotiated by the Bush administration and set the end of 2011 as the date by which all American forces are to be gone from Iraq.

At best, Obama gave Bush what has become a rhetorical specialty of his: a shout-out.  At least he didn’t try to portray himself as one who had known the surge would improve security in Iraq and had said so. His press secretary took this tack earlier, only to be barraged with anti-surge quotations from senator and candidate Obama.

True to form, Obama couldn’t resist a dig at Bush. The war in Iraq “contributed to record deficits,” he said. To the extent that’s true, those deficits pale in comparison to the trillion dollar deficits caused by Obama’s spending spree.

But let me love-bomb the president for a moment.  Others in his administration have said the pullout of troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 will be based on how the war is going, which in all likelihood means not many troops will be withdrawn next summer. In his speech, Obama repeated the same “conditions on the ground” standard.  Good for him.

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