Well, that was an election year speech if I’ve ever heard one.
As is the practice here at America’s Right, I’d like to take a look at the speech line-by-line — though, as doing so is admittedly time consuming and I’ve got a whole bunch of other pieces to edit (including one from a very interesting new contributor), I might not split apart President Obama’s remarks as extensively as I’ve done for, say, the 2010 State of the Union Address.
As provided by the White House, the president’s remarks:
Good evening. Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home.
I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans. We have now been through nearly a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we are trying to build for our nation, a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity, may seem beyond our reach.
But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.
From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.
These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst those shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As commander in chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.
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.
So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.
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. We have closed or transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.
This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens. Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al-Qaida, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.
This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election. Tonight, I encourage Iraq’s leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.
Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers and advisers — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.
This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq, one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.
Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest — it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people — a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.
As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. 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.
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-Qaida.
Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, al-Qaida continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al-Qaida leaders — and hundreds of al-Qaida’s extremist allies — have been killed or captured around the world.
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. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next August, 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.
There’s a reason I let it go on and on and on without interrupting. Up until that very last sentence–the very true but nonetheless crunchy-sounding part about open-ended war–and with the exception of the talk of timetables and precipitous withdrawals, the entire speech to this point could have easily been delivered by former President George W. Bush, with the only difference in the manner in which the two presidents pronounce “Taliban”.
In fact, that may have been the underlying reason why White House officials undertook a tasteful redecoration of the Oval Office (I love the wallpaper, but dislike the quotes on the rug) — that way, President Obama would be able to so closely mirror President Bush without losing himself in his surroundings and suddenly feeling the urge to don a large belt buckle and cowboy boots and go out to the Rose Garden to clear brush.
That’s not to say that Obama’s words, to this point, don’t require a little comment.
The first bit that jumped out at me was Obama’s hope for a “future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity,” as the first 19 or so months of his presidency shows that he is interested in neither. If he were truly interested in lasting peace, he would project strength rather than fall back on the foreign policy equivalent of a “prevent” defense. If he were truly interested in long-term prosperity, he would unencumber American business and unshackle American ingenuity by reducing taxes across the board and eliminating the uncertainty which has served as a legislative bar to employment gains and economic growth.
Second, I thought that “[a] war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency” was a pretty darned good way to succinctly capture the nature of the ongoing war in Iraq. A “war to disarm a state” is a far cry to the “blood for oil” mantra of the left, and an acknowledgment of such was nearly as surprising to me as the president’s use of the word “terrorism,” given that it had previously and inexplicably been lost from the administration’s vernacular. Thousands of Americans did in fact give their lives, tens of thousands more did in fact sustain injury. Relations abroad and unity within both were indeed tested. I was glad to hear the president give such a cut-and-dry assessment of everything. Still, what else could he do? As former CBS News correspondent and current Fox News Contributor Bernard Goldberg tweeted shortly after the speech, “if there’s one thing liberals learned from Vietnam, it’s do NOT disrespect the troops.”
Next, the president’s recognition of “coalition partners” as being among those who “made huge sacrifices of their own” stood out, because Barack Obama was among many on the left who criticized former President Bush for what they said was a destructive willingness to act unilaterally when it came to Iraq. Time and time again, those who supported President Bush and those who were simply tired of the left continuing to state falsity as fact–myself included–reminded others constantly that the United States was just one of a group of nations putting lives on the line between the Tigris and Euphrates. The same thing goes for President Obama’s recognition of the Iraqi elections — how long did it take for Democrats to see those purple index fingers and, more importantly, recognize their significance?
Furthermore, will the Iraqi government have a strong partner in the United States, as President Obama suggested? For the foreseeable future, perhaps, but surely the Poles believed us to be a strong partner until President Obama stopped the missile defense program for which Poland had previously stood fast against Russian influence. Surely Israel believed us to be a strong partner until President Obama, not even three months into his presidency, sent $900 million in aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the purpose of rebuilding after Israel defended itself against unprovoked attacks from Hamas fighters. What’s to say that this administration or another like it will not similarly forsake the Iraqi people in the name of political expediency?
Perhaps most interesting to me was all the talk of individual responsibility and freedom. “In the end,” Obama said, “only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders.” Later, he said the same thing with regard to the ongoing war in Afghanistan: “[W]e cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves.” Here in Barack Obama’s United States of America, the American people cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted to make their own choices at lunchtime, in the cafeteria line and in the supermarket. They cannot be trusted with the money that would otherwise be paid into the Social Security slush fund. They cannot be trusted to make their own decisions with regard to health care. Sometimes, in Barack Obama’s United States of America, us Americans just need to take the painkiller and trust the government to do everything on our behalf.
Finally, at least with regard to this section of the president’s speech, there was the part about former President George W. Bush. Ever since the prime time speech was announced last week or so, I’ve been wondering how the White House would approach the proverbial [and conveniently symbolic!] elephant in the room. If the president were to come out and actually acknowledge President Bush’s leadership and accomplishments in Iraq, he would risk the serious alienation of a political base already cringing every time their hand-picked chief executive utters the words “war” and “combat” and “kill,” while ignoring President Bush completely would have made it apparent to anyone even relatively paying attention that, in this White House, petty partisan politics has finally completely overtaken reality. Going the route that he did, acknowledging the success of the Iraqi “surge” and praising President Bush for his patriotism while intentionally refusing to acknowledge that Bush was correct, was this administration’s attempt at splitting the baby and doing its best to be all things to all people. For me, it was obvious enough to fall flat.
Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power — including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes — a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.
Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners. New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas. A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict. As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction — we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.
Interesting here is the president’s acknowledgment that we are indeed even fighting, on the battlefield, “those who offer hatred and destruction” and that recognition of real dangers throughout the world is so important to everyone going forward. While I would have liked to hear him utter the words seemingly unknown to his Attorney General–”radical Islam”–the entire sentiment would have meant a little more if his administration had not been so quick to look inward for radicalism and terrorism and so slow to acknowledge the trappings of radical Islamic jihad once it reached our shores thanks to the likes of Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, Faisal Shahzad in Times Square, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (and his incredible flaming scrotum!) in the skies above the Motor City.
That effort must begin within our own borders. Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our own liberty and security. But we have also understood that our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has shortchanged investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. 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.
And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for — the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.
So, “a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it”? Here, again, we see the president of the United States–this president of the United States–addressing millions of Americans and doing the same thing that every liberal does when addressing a broad spectrum of people and in need of palatability: betray their own ideals and project an almost conservative message. The same man who just assured millions of Americans that hard work will lead to achievement and success is the one who pushed for and passed the extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks.
Furthermore, it should be noted that, according to a report released just this month by the Congressional Budget Office, at $709 billion the total cost of the eight-year war in Iraq added up to less than the cost of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed only months into Barack Obama’s presidency.
In truth, the whole economic portion of the president’s speech seemed to me as though it had been added as an afterthought. It was an odd mish-mash of timely issues. It didn’t quite belong. It was as if President Obama had it in his mind to praise the troops and celebrate the purported end of combat operations in Iraq and, at the last minute, was told by Democratic Party handlers that he absolutely needed to include a token few statements on the economy and thereafter had his speechwriters cobble two distinct issues together half-heartedly. Even aside from his economic message, which is undeniably wrong-headed for a number of reasons, it just didn’t fit to me. It smacked of political operatives knowing that they were in desperate need for the president to quit racking up frequent flyer miles for a few minutes and address the single-most pressing issue ahead of the November mid-terms. Maybe even deem it “our most urgent task.”
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. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.
Words, words, words. If this president truly wanted to “give all our children the education they deserve,” he would support rather than oppose voucher programs and school choice. If this president truly wanted to “jumpstart industries that create jobs,” he would facilitate a favorable environment for business and rein in powerful unions which, as the troubled automakers have shown us, have a nasty habit of making American industry cost-prohibitive. If this president truly wanted to “end our dependence on foreign oil,” he would never have instituted the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, he would have opened up ANWR for drilling, and he would make good on his promises to once again bring nuclear energy to the forefront of the energy debate. If this president truly wanted to “unleash the innovation” and “nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs,” he would repeal his own health care reform bill and he would shelve–permanently–any proposal for cap-and-trade, both of which prey upon small business, saddling small business owners with unnecessary taxes and overbroad regulations and stifling growth with unchecked uncertainty.
Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor. As long as I am president, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That is why we have already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We are treating the signature wounds of today’s wars post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned. And we are funding a post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education. Just as the GI Bill helped those who fought World War II — including my grandfather — become the backbone of our middle class, so today’s servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy. Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.
Two weeks ago, America’s final combat brigade in Iraq — the Army’s Fourth Stryker Brigade — journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.
Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from their families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband’s embrace or a mother’s kiss. Most painfully, since the war began 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice — part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”
Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations — war — and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.
In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation. Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar — Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own. Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be traveling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her.
Like the beginning, much of the final part of last night’s speech could easily have come from the mouth of former President George W. Bush. The difference here is that with George W. Bush, I never doubted that he was genuine. Bush was a man who made unscheduled visits to injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center, with the White House Press Pool nowhere to be found. Bush is a man who goes out of his way to greet troops returning to the airport in Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Barack Obama, while he’s shown a little more heart as of laid, had a penchant throughout his candidacy and his first year in office toward ignoring or avoiding our servicemembers. Time and time again, Obama has shown that his failure to understand the basic concept of American exceptionalism extends to our military capabilities. While he may have promised to “maintain the finest fighting force in the world” tonight, only two years ago Barack Obama had this to say:
In fact, it’s that standard political doublespeak which does so much to erode the credibility of President Obama when it comes to support of the troops, support of the war in Iraq, and support of the tactics necessary to get the job done in theater. Immediately after former President Bush announced the surge in Iraq, then Sen. Barack Obama explained to CNN’s Larry King that there was “no evidence that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 more U.S. troops will make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” Later, on January 29, 2008, then Sen. Obama repeated his skepticism and criticism, saying that “tonight, we heard President Bush say that the surge in Iraq is working, when we know that’s just not true.”
And it’s not just President Obama. As Democrats from coast to coast take to the airwaves and front pages today to laud President Obama for last night’s speech and for purportedly turning everything around in Iraq, remember as well how most of them felt.
- Pennsylvania Congressman and senatorial candidate Joe Sestak–my former representative, whom I do like despite his political leanings–explained that “we’re doubling down on a bad military bet. A surge hasn’t worked and it won’t work again.”
- Rep. Ike Shelton, of the Armed Services Committee, said that “our experience has shown that a limited infusion of troops will not necessarily produce the improvement to Iraqi security we had hoped. I remain to be convinced that increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will have a measurable affect on the security situation in Iraq.”
- Sen. Dick Durbin, in the official Democratic party response to the announcement of the troop surge in Iraq, stated emphatically that “escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election . . . the president’s plan moves the American commitment in the wrong direction.”
- Hillary Clinton, then junior senator from New York, told The New York Times that President Bush “simply has not gotten the message sent loudly and clearly by the American people, that we desperately need a new course,” and that “the president has not offered a new direction, instead he will continue to take us down the wrong road, only faster.” Later, she explained her position to Fox News Channel’s Greta van Susteren: “I opposed it, based on what I knew of the situation before I went, and I’m even more strongly against it now because I think the chances of success are limited at best.” And then, of course, she essentially called Gen. David Petraeus a liar:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, through her representative, stated that the troops in Iraq at the time would in fact be funded–oh, how nice of her!–but cautioned that “any escalation of troops we will subject to scrutiny. We will have hearings, and we will set benchmarks that the president must meet to obtain the money.”
- Joe Biden, then senator from the Home of Tax-Free Shopping said simply that “this whole notion that the surge is working is fantasy.”
- Sen. Harry Reid, during an April 19, 2007 press conference, famously stated that “this war is lost” and maintained that “the surge is not accomplishing anything.”
- Sen. John F. Kerry, on September 4, 2007, voiced his opposition to the effort in Iraq, holding that “the most important conclusion that you’ve drawn is that, thus far at least, the surge and the purpose of it–which was to provide breathing space for political reconciliation–has failed.”
Heck, before he retired, even former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel deemed the plan a “dangerously wrongheaded strategy that will drive America into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost,” and maintained that “[i]t is wrong to place American troops in the middle of Iraq’s civil war.”
And then, of course, there were the advertisements and other measures undertaken by the anti-war left, most notable among them the full-page advertisement taken out in the New York Times in September 2007 by the people at MoveOn.org for a generously low $65,000. The advertisement mirrored much of the perspectives taken by Democrats on Capitol Hill at the time, and while it didn’t necessarily mention the words “suspension of disbelief” as did Hillary Clinton, it did accuse Petraeus of “cooking the books” for the Bush White House, arguing that the four-star general was little more than “a military man constantly at war with the facts.” Now, that military man is leading Barack Obama’s efforts in Afghanistan.
Recall, as they sing the praises of the surge and the troops and the president throughout the rest of the week, desperately looking to deflect attention away from the economy, that the Democrats at the time refused to condemn the advertisement, offering only that it was “not helpful” because it permitted their Republican counterparts across the aisle to avoid talking about supposed lack of political progress on the ground in Iraq. Sen. Harry Reid only said that the ad gave Republicans “a new talking point.”
Republicans went out of their way to condemn it. Sen. John McCain called it a “McCarthylike attack on an American patriot.” Mitt Romney wrote, at National Review Online, that Petraeus, “[l]ike the men he commands . . . is risking his life to protect our freedoms here at home ” and that “[w]e should not prejudge him or his testimony, or give him anything less than the full respect he deserves.”
What we saw on television last night was a desperate act of a floundering political party to reclaim, even if only for a few news cycles, the affirmative talking points when it comes to the curiously intertwined matters of Iraq and the economy. What we saw was an attempt to pander to those who don’t know any better, those who were merely waiting for “Minute to Win It” to come back on. Where this president differed from the last, his words barely stand up under even the mildest scrutiny.
The Democrats are indeed foundering and floundering. The economy is a losing issue for them. Foreign policy is a losing issue for them. National security is a losing issue for them. Generally, when confronted with unfavorable circumstances, the Democrats have two primary approaches when dealing with the media: they either overtly mislead and hope nobody notices, or they soullessly abandon their core values and principles and masquerade as the second coming of Ronald Reagan to a hopefully unwitting public. Last night, I’d say that we saw a little of both.