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"End the War" Becomes "Leave Iraq to Its People"

4:20 PM, Jan 21, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly relied on the same basic formulation when discussing his plans for Iraq. Obama would declare his intent to "to end this war responsibly." Sometimes he'd say he was going "to end this war responsibly and deliberately, but decisively," but the point was the same -- above all else, the goal was to end the war. So it's interesting that Obama changed that formulation for his inaugural speech. From the text of yesterday's speech:

We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

I've already quibbled with Obama's call to to achieve peace in Afghanistan -- shouldn't our goal be plainly stated as victory? -- but I missed the evolution of his language on Iraq the first time I heard it. As Jonathan Last noted below, Obama did not shy away from using campaign rhetoric in his address. He talked about Americans "choosing hope over fear," and he repeated his criticism of the "worn-out [read conservative] dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." So why did he not just repeat his call to end this war responsibly?

Even if Obama's views on Iraq haven't changed -- despite the end of the campaign and the overwhelming success of the surge (and there's reason to think they have) -- his language must. Obama is now the commander in chief, and he will be leading the men and women who remain in Iraq whether they are there for 16 months or 36 months. Liberals are fond of saying you can support the troops without supporting their mission, but their commander doesn't have that luxury. Obama's goal is no longer simply to end the war, but to "responsibly leave Iraq to its people." Doing so may not allow him to adhere to a hard and fast time-line, but it will allow the U.S. troops who remain in Iraq to believe they have a mission worth fighting for.