Some folks are defending President Obama’s decision not to say anything positive about the substance of the Iraq war in his Tuesday speech on the grounds that Obama simply doesn’t believe any good came out of the project. And, although I certainly haven’t defended this aspect of the speech, I did write, “let’s give Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume [he was uable to speak of the meaning of the war] because he thinks the struggle had no meaning, except as it related to domestic politics in the U.S.”
But Doug Feith points out that, when speaking to soldiers at Fort Bliss on the day of the speech, Obama did find a positive and constructive meaning to the war. Obama told the troops that “because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done, and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself, and America is more secure.”
Thus, Obama was unwilling to share with the nation what he told the troops. Was he deceiving the troops or not being forthcoming with the nation?
Here is Feith’s answer:
Evidently the president is not comfortable admitting that the war has made America more secure. Presumably this is because he repeatedly declared before he became president that the war had made the United States less secure. The president does not quite know what to do with the rather inconvenient truth that the 2007-08 surge strategy worked. In January 2007 he had proposed legislation (“The Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007”) that would have ended the U.S. war effort in March 2008, before the strategy could produce its success. But now military, political, and economic progress in Iraq has reached a point where President Obama does not believe he can ignore it, is not willing to throw it away, and therefore feels compelled to remain engaged in Iraq as a “strong partner” for the foreseeable future. At the same time, it sticks in his craw to praise — or even just admit — what the war has done to serve U.S. national security interests.
It would have been useful for the president to have used his Ft. Bliss formulation when he gave his oval office speech. If statesmanship trumped politics, he would have observed last evening that the war not only freed the Iraqis from a sadistic tyranny, but it made America more secure in various ways. It removed a regime that threatened aggression throughout its region. It punished a regime that was hostile to the United States and contemptuous of the U.N. Security Council’s formal decisions on disarmament and peace. It demonstrated that a large price is sometimes imposed on regimes that support terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction. And it gave the Iraqis an opportunity to create democratic political institutions in their country, an enterprise that might help someday bring about a benign political transformation of the Arab world and the broader Muslim world
Making even a fraction of these concessions might not have helped Obama the politician, but it would have served his purposes as president. For, as Feith explains, Obama “needs popular support for his Iraq policy, but he’s is not going to be able to sustain it for long if he can’t bring himself to speak about U.S. interests there truthfully, specifically, and lucidly.”