- By Tom Mahnken
As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was gratified to hear President Obama’s tribute to the courage of America’s service members, including the Navy SEALs with whom I served in 2003. Over the course of the conflict, American forces have adapted and performed admirably under extremely difficult conditions. As James Russell writes in the latest issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies, American units structured and trained for conventional military operations shifted successfully to wage successfully a very different type of war.
And yet, one could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy.
Obama’s speech begged comparison to his predecessor — indeed, his words invited such a comparison. And it is by comparison that he comes up short. Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.
In addition, in tone and substance, Obama’s speech failed to prepare the American people for what may be to come in Iraq. Although last night Obama formally declared an end to combat operations, nearly 50,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines remain in Iraq, training and assisting the Iraqi armed forces. It is inevitable that in coming weeks and months these men and women will be attacked by insurgents who want nothing more than to cripple the Iraqi government and humiliate the United States, and is inevitable that more Americans will die or suffer wounds in Iraq. The president did nothing to explain this situation to the public.
Just as it was misleading for President Bush to speak in triumphant terms in May 2003, it was premature for President Obama to give the American people the impression that the Iraq War is over. It may be, to quote Churchill, "the end of the beginning," but we have hardly reached the end.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |