I had occasion to rewatch this speech today before I went on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Given Dec. 14, 2011 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, its contents are gut-wrenching.
1. This one, in which Obama concedes that you’d take post-surge 2011 Iraq over pretty much any other major country in the Middle East post Arab Spring and Obama presidency:
“It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations.”
2. This one where Obama describes just how much we’ve lost.
“This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.”
3. Then, he enumerated our victories, which our withdrawal swiftly turned into losses, one by one, starting with the insurgency.
“We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide attacks. From the ‘triangle of death’ to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.”
4. The sectarian violence.
“We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims, militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination. And in the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future.”
Sure, sectarian divides would not have disappeared entirely, and Maliki is to blame for alienating Sunnis, but this was not inevitable. A residual force would have ameliorated the divides, kept Maliki in check to some extent, and given moderates breathing room to make the political compromises Obama is now demanding they make in the middle of chaos.
5. The Surge
“We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace.”
6. The vanquising of al Qaeda in Iraq and the preservation of our hard-fought gains
“And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible.”
7. This whole part where the President waxes poetic about honoring our warriors when they come home from the war—with, wait for it— great VA care.
“Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it. It’s not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you.
That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force –- including your families. We will keep faith with you.
We will help our wounded warriors heal, and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the unseen wounds of war. And make no mistake — as we go forward as a nation, we are going to keep America’s armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen. That will not stop.
That will not stop. But our commitment doesn’t end when you take off the uniform.”
8. The part where he trumpets the breaking of the Taliban and the fact that terrorists will now have no safe haven.
“Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban. Because of you, we’ve begun a transition to the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home from there. And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al Qaeda so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of this Earth.”
9. The part where America is stronger and the world more secure.
“So here’s what I want you to know, and here’s what I want all our men and women in uniform to know: Because of you, we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure. Because of you.”
Here’s the thing. I’m quite aware that the American appetite for interventionism is close to nil. Some of that is a justified backlash to 10+ years of war and the understandable weariness of our people of the deaths of our fellow Americans in those conflicts. While I think it’s important to learn lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, I also think it’s a fool’s move to become entirely disengaged from the region. As I noted up top, if you had a choice, you’d choose 2011 Iraq over pretty much every other major Middle Eastern country post-Arab Spring when you’re considering the security of Americans and American interests. Given the low tolerance of Americans for interventionism, wouldn’t it have been smarter to try to preserve the residual force in relatively stable (by Obama’s own admission) Iraq, which had the bonus of being a Congressionally authorized endeavor, instead of wasting that tiny bit of good will on airstrikes in Libya, which was both unauthorized and basically useless? We could have preserved the hard-fought and very real victories we had established in Iraq, earned at the cost of friends’ life and limb. We didn’t. It was forseeable. And, now it’s utterly gut-wrenching to watch it all fall apart.