What does Barack Obama want most when preparing for a prime time Oval Office speech to the nation? Offhand, I’d guess one or two of Bill Clinton’s speechwriters, or perhaps these days even George W. Bush’s, but probably not advice from the Democrats’ bête noire, Sarah Palin. That’s too bad, though, because Palin actually has good advice for the President from her Facebook platform, particularly in her conclusion:
As Americans tune in to watch President Obama, it is important to remember the facts. He opposed the surge. He predicted it would fail. He said it would make things worse even after it dramatically improved the situation. He voted to cut off funds for our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines fighting in Iraq. For months he refused to accept that the surge he fought was actually a spectacular success. As President Obama usually likes to look backwards and declare the state of everything to be “George Bush’s fault,” my hope is that tonight he stays consistent and looks backwards, and in this case acknowledges that credit should be given where credit is due.
Along with the points that Bill Kristol made yesterday, I too have some suggestions for the president. President Obama, please show grace, humility and some honesty before the American people tonight. Please don’t declare “Mission Accomplished” and then saunter away with an assumption that your opposition to the Iraq strategy was key to our troops’ success. Please end the political posturing. Admit you were wrong about the surge. Recognize what our brave armed forces have achieved. Admit that the strategy long advocated by Republicans, proposed by President Bush, led by Generals Petraeus and Odierno, and executed by thousands of America’s finest – our brave men and women in uniform – brought violence under control and made responsible withdrawals possible. The more honest you are about the past, the more likely it is you will gain the support of the American people for your Iraq policy in the future. We need to be able to trust the White House war strategy, as our children’s future depends on it. Being honest with us tonight is a good starting point in building trust.
To some extent, Obama has admitted he got the surge wrong in Iraq by both implementing the same strategy in Afghanistan and assigning David Petraeus to run it. Robert Gibbs went far enough this morning to acknowledge that the surge improved security in Iraq, while at the same time issuing a flood of nonsequiturs about how political and diplomatic efforts succeeded as well — as though Bush had never used either in his years-long rebuilding project in Iraq or had never acknowledged their necessity. To the contrary, even when ordering the surge, Bush insisted that the solution in Iraq would take much more than a military effort — but that the surge was necessary to stabilize Iraq enough for diplomacy and politics to work.
Gibbs also claimed that the Anbar Awakening somehow played a role separate from the surge. It’s true that a few of the Sunni tribes began to work with the Americans before the surge, but the reason why most of them got on board was because Bush committed publicly to stay until the fight was over. If Gibbs and Obama think the Awakening would have continued while the US hotfooted it out of Iraq, they understand little about how and why those tribal chiefs switched sides in the first place.
Why not just explicitly admit that Bush got it right? Palin correctly notes that acknowledging the obvious builds a certain level of credibility, and praising one’s political opponents gives one a sense of grace, both of which are lacking in Obama’s presidency at the moment. While Bush steadfastly maintains his silence about his successor, Obama spends most of his time attacking Bush. In fact, it’s not quite accurate to call Bush a political opponent of Obama, since Bush has yet to openly oppose Obama on anything. It’s much more accurate to call Obama a political opponent of Bush, and perhaps one in perpetuity, since Obama seems interested in talking about almost no one else.
I suspect that this good advice will get ignored, just as John Boehner’s good advice to Obama to dump his economic team and start over got ignored, and for the same reason. To listen to such advice is to be seen as admitting fault, which is seen as weakness in politics. The real weakness, though, is in Obama’s distant connection to the electorate, which another self-serving Oval Office speech will only exacerbate rather than remedy.