(1) The president should be commended for his rousing tribute to the men and women who have served in Iraq:
The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians –and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people – Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.[# More #](2) Obama also chose to include a short passage praising President Bush's support for the military; lauding his predecessor's love of country. It wasn't necessary (it's already drawn the ire of Rachel Maddow, who's fuming on MSNBC), but it was the gracious thing to do:
This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.(3) After this classy and conciliatory gesture, Obama launched into a strong defense of the US effort in Afghanistan, which he rightly described as necessary to defeat Al Qaeda in the region. Perhaps in a nod to recent comments from Gen. Petraeus, the president seemed to hedge slightly on his self-imposed July 2011 withdrawal timetable, going out of his way to emphasize the importance of ground conditions:
The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.
..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.(4) Obama also came as close as his base (and perhaps his considerable ego) would allow to finally conceding that the Iraq surge was successful. See if you can spot the tacit admission:
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.(5) His closing was powerful, too, and marked the only time the president seemed emotionally engaged in his subject matter.
(1) President Obama could not resist using the speech as a platform to tout a campaign promise fulfilled. It seemed cheap and inappropriate, considering the gravity of the subject matter.
Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.(2) Obama also veered wildly--almost startlingly--off course when he lapsed into several minutes of economic boilerplate. Viewers suddenly found themselves attending a typical Obama stump speech on the economy rather than a sober war-related address. The president maladroitly attempted to tie the two subjects together, but it didn't work. It looked and sounded disjointed and political--a definite low point:
This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq’s Security Forces and support its government and people. That is what we have done. We have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.
For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk...(3) Obama's bellyaching about the cost of the Iraq War effort ignores this inconvenient little fact: According to the CBO, the current administration's "stimulus" package alone costs more than eight years of the war.
...our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult.
Had Obama resisted the temptation of shoehorning an economic pep talk into a war address (speech-creep, if you will), his words would have been much more effective. You can read the full transcript below.