Point 1: “The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people.” Here, the president seems to move tantalizingly close to a proposition he has resisted since his days in the Senate: that the war in Iraq might just have been a just war after all. To be sure, the requirements of politics make it difficult to praise the armed forces if you truly believe the war that have been fighting has no justification—the slogan “I oppose the war but I support the troops” is harder to maintain ethically than it might appear—but still, the concession is a significant one, given Obama’s reluctance in the past to say anything to suggest that the coalition forces in Iraq might have been pursuing a mission of genuine moral importance.
>Point 2: Once the Iraqi regime was defeated, American troops “shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi security forces; and took out terrorist leaders.” It is the last clause that is fascinating: “took out terrorist leaders”—meaning, killed them. The president made a similar point in his eulogy this past February for the seven Central Intelligence Agency officers killed by a suicide bomber in Khost Province in Afghanistan. Praising the agency’s work, he referred to “the extremists who no longer threaten our country—because you eliminated them.” Among the most controversial aspects of Bush’s approach to the terror war was the proposition that America must get the terrorists before they get us. Obama has, in a sense, doubled down on this strategy. So, for example, his administration evidently makes far greater use of targeted missile attacks against accused terror leaders than Bush did.