Obama’s real Iraq accomplishment
Watching the coverage of President Obama’s Iraq speech has made my head spin. On the one hand, as I discussed yesterday, there is the fact that the manufactured faux-watershed got any coverage at all. Next, the post-speech analysis was, for the most part, flabby and edgeless, marked in my mind by two low-points. One was ...
Watching the coverage of President Obama's Iraq speech has made my head spin.
Watching the coverage of President Obama’s Iraq speech has made my head spin.
On the one hand, as I discussed yesterday, there is the fact that the manufactured faux-watershed got any coverage at all. Next, the post-speech analysis was, for the most part, flabby and edgeless, marked in my mind by two low-points. One was an exchange on CNN last night between Fareed Zakaria and David Gergen in which the normally wise Zakaria started on about how Obama was a foreign policy realist in the mold of Eisenhower and Kissinger. While there may be a realist somewhere inside Obama, there’s also an idealist (can you imagine Kissinger intoning the Cairo or Prague speeches?) and a pol (Eisenhower showed courage standing up to his own party’s calls to confront the Soviet Union that is leagues beyond anything Obama has demonstrated thus far) and mostly, a neophyte for whom comparisons with accomplished figures are as premature as was the speculation about how Stephen Strasburg was going to supplant Walter Johnson as the greatest pitcher Washington has ever seen.
The other low point came during today’s "Morning Joe" post-mortem of the speech and the surrounding political mood when Ari Fleischer noted some polling data showing Republicans way ahead of Democrats on their handling of most of the big issues of the day. Fleischer then concluded that "Obama is having a very bad September." At 8:03 a.m. on September 1. I guess it’s all uphill when your greatest career achievement is being the mouthpiece for George W. Bush’s brain, but even in the hyped-up world of TV political analysis that counts as another sloppy case of premature evaluation.
Missing from all these analyses was the one really remarkable achievement associated with this week’s events in Iraq, an achievement for which President Obama does deserve some considerable credit. I didn’t pick this insight up in the media. Rather, I heard from a guy I work with at my company, a smart, former hill staffer named John Juech. He pointed out how amazing it was given how divisive an issue Iraq has been since 2003 that somehow Obama has managed to somehow knit together bipartisan consensus around his Iraq policy.
You might argue that timing and wide-spread Iraq fatigue played a role in this. But that would not give credit where it was due. Obama didn’t have to keep Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on (a man who received the most rousing applause at today’s change of command ceremonies in Iraq). He didn’t have to keep Gen. David Petraeus on. They were so closely associated with Bush that it would have been not only understandable but frankly, expected, had he replaced them. But Obama opted for continuity. Similarly, Obama did not have to reach out to former President Bush yesterday prior to the speech. But all these moves showed a sensitivity and wisdom that have made what once was the most volatile issue in American politics one about which there is much consensus… even at a moment in which it is hard to get a divided political community to agree on the weather or, for that matter, creating jobs in a ravaged economy.
To be fair, part of the credit must also go to the U.S. military. They did not make it through past conflicts that were similarly controversial with the level of national admiration and support that they have today. Whether we have learned the lessons of Vietnam on the battlefield level remains uncertain, especially given the prognosis in Afghanistan. However, there is no denying that the military and leaders like Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus and others have done amazing work in maintaining public support for the armed forces even when it did not exist at the same level for the mission they were performing.
These are not small things. In time, they may be overshadowed by problems on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan or even with the economy. Even now they are obscured behind torrents of silly TV babble passing as analysis. But they do suggest a rare point of convergence in American political views — about getting out of Iraq, about pride in the military, and about a common desire to cast America’s missions in the world in an honorable light wherever possible (and even in this instance, where it is very hard to do).
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