By James Phillips
President Obama’s wooden speech tonight, ostensibly focused on Iraq, actually gave short shrift to the war in Iraq and failed to convincingly articulate a vision of Iraq’s future, his own Iraq policy, or America’s role in the world. The President talked about ending the war, but not of victory. Apparently in a rush to put the war in the past, he gave little attention to why the war was fought, what was at stake, or how the war related to broader U.S. goals in the Middle East.
Instead, Obama maintained that “now it is time to turn the page,” and focus on restoring the economy—“my central responsibility as President.” Clearly more at ease acting as the “Economist-in-Chief” rather than the Commander-in-Chief, the President then devoted a surprisingly large portion of the speech, only his second from the Oval Office, to vague rhetoric about fixing the economy. But protecting America’s security and leading the nation in war should be his highest priorities as President, not to mention the paramount focus of a speech about Iraq.
Unfortunately, the televised address sounded more like a campaign speech from a politician rather than a message from the Commander-in-Chief of a nation at war. He said that “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” But he gave no inkling of what that commitment entails, why America has a vital interest in Iraq’s future, or his Administration’s vision of Iraq’s future.
Unfortunately, President Obama missed a golden opportunity to reassure anxious Iraqis and nervous U.S. allies elsewhere that the United States is a dependable friend that is determined to consolidate the long-term security of Iraq—not merely make a rush for the exit.
While the speech may have helped him with Democratic voters, it is likely to undermine confidence in American leadership not only in Iraq and the broader Middle East, but in many other areas of the world. President Obama’s proclamation of his “central responsibility” for economic matters, shoe-horned into a major speech about Iraq—one of the world’s most important international security issues—will only encourage foreign doubts about his Administration’s commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan, winning the struggle against Islamist extremism, and protecting U.S. allies around the world.
For more on what the speech should have covered, see: