In his Oval Office address Tuesday night announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq, President Obama said "It's time to turn the page" and start focusing on rebuilding the American economy.
That would be fine with me if we could be certain about what was on the next page, or whether the "book," which is about more than just Iraq, was finished. Have you noticed that those who would undermine what has been accomplished in Iraq and who are part of a larger war to conquer the West have not announced they are ready to turn the page and move on to other things?
"Our combat mission is ending," said the president, "but our commitment to Iraq's future is not." What does that mean? Does it mean that if Iran floods Iraq with suicide bombers and other agents of democratic destruction -- as it has done in the past -- we will resume combat operations? That seems unlikely with this president.
In a speech earlier in the day to troops at Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, the president said all the effort and bloodshed in Iraq was not in vain. He then said that because of U.S. efforts in Iraq, "America is more secure." How can that be if, as then-senator Barack Obama claimed, the war was a mistake and the surge wouldn't work? Then-senator Joe Biden said the same thing. As House Minority Leader John Boehner noted in a speech to the 92nd American Legion National Convention, congressional leaders who opposed the troop surge that led to advances in Iraq are now taking credit for it.
The president apparently felt obliged to say something nice about former President Bush after faulting him for seemingly every problem America now faces. He called Mr. Bush from Air Force One and then said of him in his address: "no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security." That was probably the best Bush could expect and no one should look for more of this rare expression of civility between now and the November election.
For the president, the next page is Afghanistan. He said winding down the U.S. presence in Iraq would allow us "to apply the resources necessary to go on offense." Well, yes, but Afghanistan now has its own deadline for troop withdrawal. Our enemies know this and are simply biding their time.
If a government is formed in Iraq that can withstand the pressures to return it to dictatorship and internal religious factionalism, it will be a victory for Iraqis and their American helpers. If it doesn't, then it will be a disaster not only for Iraqis, but also for the American soldiers who died, or were wounded, and the American taxpayer who footed the bill for their liberation. Speaking of a bill, the president should send Iraq a bill for this war. The money would come from Iraq's vast oil reserves and be used to reimburse the depleted U.S. Treasury. Even a partial payment would help and demonstrate Iraq's gratitude beyond mere words.
Like an Agatha Christie mystery, Iraq is a subplot in a much larger storyline. Whether one was for or against President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, the larger issue of worldwide Muslim extremism and its aggressive attempts to undermine and then eradicate Western institutions and practices, such as freedom of religion and equal rights for women, remains a "combat operation." That "war" will not always be fought with guns and bullets, but it must be fought with unswerving resolve.
While America wrings its hands about not "offending" Muslims by denying them anything they want, those among them who would force us to bend the knee to Sharia law do not worry at all about offending us. They are not turning pages. They are busy writing a decidedly different ending.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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