David Rothkopf

Making the most of Obama’s speech tonight

In the rankings of artificial events created solely for public relations or marketing purposes, tonight’s speech by President Obama on Iraq ranks just above the Golden Globe Awards and considerably below Mother’s Day. It bears all the hallmarks of these other events (some of which I believe were actually created by the Hallmark Card company): ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

In the rankings of artificial events created solely for public relations or marketing purposes, tonight’s speech by President Obama on Iraq ranks just above the Golden Globe Awards and considerably below Mother’s Day.

It bears all the hallmarks of these other events (some of which I believe were actually created by the Hallmark Card company): It takes an arbitrarily chosen day and then uses a combination of deception and hoopla to turn it into prime time television or an occasion that warrants sending flowers. In the case of the Obama administration, tonight’s address may prove worthy of both.

This date was chosen by the president eighteen months ago. There is very little evidence that it relates to anything specific happening on the ground in Iraq. Rather it seems much more driven by election year politics than anything else. Certainly no one who is paying any attention to Iraq can conclude that something has transpired in that country in the past several months that warrants a change in the stance of our military in that country. In fact, despite absurd pronouncements by the man who presides over Iraq’s non-functioning non-government, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, that Iraq is now "its own master" and on an equal footing with the U.S., the political situation in the country is gradually metastasizing into something much more unsettled than it was when Obama took office. Indeed, civil war or a military coup — and a choice between chaos or renewed autocracy — seem like the next big decisions for the Iraqi body politic.

Given that, the Pentagon can rename the operation on the ground anything it wants, the U.S. troops who remain in country will be at the same or even greater risk than they were before and their tasks will seem very similar to those they have been performing for the past several years. (Personally, I think "Operation New Dawn" sounds more like something designed to keep a woman feeling "fresh" even during those difficult days of the month than it does a military exercise.)

In anticipation of the president’s speech, the press has wondered aloud whether Obama would fall into the "mission accomplished trap." That seems unlikely. What Obama is trying to do is to claim credit for a campaign promise kept and, even more importantly, to play up the one area in which public opinion for him is strongest, his "management of Iraq." Admittedly, this is pretty low hanging fruit since it is clear the only "management" sought by the American public was getting the heck out of Dodge, consequences be damned. But when recent polls show that the president’s signature accomplishments — health care reform and the stimulus — are increasingly disdained by the public at large, you claim credit where you can, even if the facts suggest it is all low-grade political theater.

Perhaps something can be learned from the other sham events with which our lives are increasingly filled. If you plan to watch the president’s speech tonight, take a page out of the book of the Golden Globes and … assuming you can’t actually get Ricky Gervais to sit with you and offer live commentary on the proceedings … do the other thing that sets that show’s proceedings apart and drink as heavily as the assembled stars and starlets do while they wait for their essentially meaningless awards. Or, perhaps better still, if that doesn’t suit you, instead of watching the solemn and insincere posturing, do what you do on that wonderful fake holiday in May and give your mother a call. I’m sure she’d like to know how you are doing.

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