Open thread: Obama’s Iraq speech; Update: Obama acknowledges Bush

8 p.m. ET across the dial. It’s billed as an Iraq speech, but that’s not really what it is. The “key part,” apparently, will be a renewed call to “take the fight directly to al Qaeda” by finishing the job in Afghanistan. (Wouldn’t taking the fight to AQ require operations in Pakistan, not Afghanistan?) It’s also being billed as a “mission unaccomplished” speech, as the White House is ever mindful after Bush of the pitfalls in celebrating too early. But that’s not really what this is either. Like it or not, by investing the end of combat ops with the grandeur of an Oval Office address, The One is necessarily signaling completion of the task. And why not? The public couldn’t be clearer as to how it feels about renewing combat operations if Iraqi security starts to fall apart. This is closure, for better or worse.

Because it is closure, and closure at a moment when things are ominously open-ended in Iraq, I admit to having no appetite today for the standard left/right recriminations about how much Bush screwed up or whether Obama should credit him for the surge. (I think he will acknowledge Bush tonight, for what it’s worth, mainly to signal that this is an occasion that transcends partisanship. But never underestimate the political instincts of the perpetual campaigner.) Instead, since we’re putting a bookend on history, I offer you this grim big-picture reminiscence by star NYT correspondent John Burns, who was on the ground over there until 2007. Today is a day that’s taken forever to arrive, he says, and yet it still seems to have arrived too soon. And some Iraqis agree:

“Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is things are still very much different, things are much safer,” Biden told al-Maliki at the start of their 90 minute meeting.

But throughout the day, Biden’s entourage had to duck for cover three times upon hearing alerts for incoming rocket and mortar fire. No impact was heard, meaning that the shelling likely fell short of its target…

“It’s not the right time,” said Johaina Mohammed, a 40-year-old teacher from Baghdad. “There is no government, the security is deteriorating, and there is no trust.”…

“They should wait for the government to be formed and then withdraw,” said Mohammed Hussein Abbas, a Shiite from the town of Hillah south of Baghdad.

An Iraqi poll taken two weeks ago showed 59.8 percent say it’s too soon for the U.S. to fully withdraw. Ray Odierno, while hopeful that the election stalemate will be resolved by October 1, now worries openly about Iraqis giving up on the democratic model if things continue to bog down. The headlines tomorrow will be about whether The One mentioned Bush, but the bird’s-eye historical view of tonight’s speech will be whether, as lefty hawk Michael O’Hanlon argued today, Obama should have waited until the new Iraqi government was in place to commit to ending combat ops. He’s intent on checking the box next to his campaign promise to end combat ops in Iraq, though, so here we are. The die is now cast — again, for better or worse.

He tends to do well in speeches by his usual standards when he has his C-in-C hat on, so here’s hoping he rises to the occasion. The thread is open.

Update: Nothing specific about the surge, but I was right about him saying some kind words about Dubya. From the transcript:

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023