On Tuesday evening, two years, two months and four days before the 2012 elections, Obama made yet another of his endless primetime speeches on all the major networks. "Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended," he declared. "We have met our responsibility. Now it is time to turn the page."
In May 2003, one year, six months and three days before the 2004 elections, George W. Bush said something similar. "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," he said, as a banner infamously emblazoned "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" flew in the background. "Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free."
If Obama wants to separate himself from Bush, he's picking an odd way of doing it.
Bush was wrong about combat operations, of course -- and Obama's still wrong about combat operations. Deaths in Iraq have escalated dramatically over the last two months, with certain sources reporting two consecutive months of over 500 civilian deaths. Fifty thousand U.S. troops remain in the country. The democracy we were supposed to establish in Iraq has given way to an odd regime not formed according to parliamentary principles. Just last week, al-Qaida launched a series of attacks that resulted in 56 deaths. Bombings of Iraqi police gathering places still occur commonly.
Sectarian violence still plagues the country. Even as Joe Biden, in the mold of Baghdad Bob, assured the press that "Iraqi security troops are capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility," he had to duck no less than three times because of supposed incoming fire.
Yet Obama has escaped the same scrutiny that plagued Bush.
Why the wide variance in the press' treatment? Because there is one major difference between President Bush and President Obama: Obama spends his time pushing precipitous pullouts; Bush stayed the course.
When Bush mistakenly declared that the mission had been accomplished, he made clear that our mission wasn't done. In that May 2003 speech, he repeated over and over again that the United States and her allies still had "difficult work to do in Iraq." "Our coalition will stay until our work is done," he said.
It's not that Obama didn't make similar declarations on Tuesday -- he did tell troops, "Our task in Iraq is not yet completed. Our combat phase is over. But we've worked too hard to neglect the continuing work that has to be done." The difference is that Bush meant it. Obama said it for show.