Was Obama’s speech ‘Mission Accomplished’?

By Dan Balz

At critical turns in his political career, President Obama has used his substantial rhetorical skills to enhance his political standing or deflect problems. That’s why the tension inherent in his Oval Office address on Tuesday night spoke volumes about the political condition of his administration and the Democratic Party.

It was appropriate to mark the end of the United States’ combat mission in Iraq after more than seven years. It was also appropriate to pay tribute to the men and women who served there, were killed or wounded there, and to their families for the sacrifices they made.

But the 18-minute speech tried to do much more, and it showed. The president moved from the war to the economy and back, from ending combat in Iraq to rebuilding at home, from the commitment to defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to the declaration that this will not be an open-ended commitment and back to the economy. He tried to pack at lot into a short address.

(Video of Obama’s speech)

At the time his speech was conceived, earlier in the summer, the president’s advisers may have thought that there would be a political value to highlighting the withdrawal of all combat forces from Iraq.

This was, after all, a campaign promise they could point to as fulfilled – even if a residual force of 50,000 troops will remain until the end of next year, even if violence remains a problem and even if the Iraqis have not resolved their political differences over a new government.

If anything, marking the withdrawal of combat forces was a reminder to Obama’s base that he had kept his word, just as he had done in pushing health-care reform through Congress, just as he had done in getting financial regulation legislation passed. Obama and the Democrats need those voters energized for November. In the days before the speech, however, it was clear that many in his party wondered why the president was using his second Oval Office address to talk about the war in Iraq rather than the problem that threatens to cost Democrats their House and Senate majorities in November: the economy. As a result, the speech tried to bridge the two issues, sometimes awkwardly.

For Democratic candidates worried about their own survival, it’s easy to criticize the White House for spending more time on foreign policy this week than on domestic problems. Presidents, however, don’t always have the luxury of deciding how to spend their time. Problems arise, opportunities present themselves, the calendar dictates.

The date for withdrawal of combat forces was set early in Obama’s presidency. Given the divisions the war created and the symbolic importance of this moment, Obama would have been remiss in not marking the departure of the last combat units.

There also is no reason to question the timing of his latest effort to start the peace process in the Middle East. As a candidate, Obama pledged that he would take a more active role early in his administration to move Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution.

After 18 months of frustrating inaction, the opportunity has arisen to move the process forward, with the president hosting the parties at the White House on Wednesday night as a prelude to face-to-face talks. Would nervous Democrats prefer that Obama ignore those opportunities to concentrate solely on the economy? It’s doubtful. It took a presidents approvel to make this mission happen. President Obama is that President, and I thank him.

Iraq has never been Obama’s war. He opposed it as a candidate. He called for a timetable for withdrawal that would have had U.S. forces out long ago. He sharply criticized former president George W. Bush for the “surge” and questioned whether it would be effective in reducing the violence. His goal was always to end it as quickly as he could. He believed it was a dumb war, as he put it in 2002.

But he is in a different place today than he was then: commander in chief, not aspiring U.S. senator. That alone may have created some tension in his message Tuesday night. “It’s time to turn the page,” he said.
Republicans spent Tuesday criticizing Obama for not acknowledging that Bush’s surge policy helped create the conditions that made the current withdrawals possible. Obama acknowledged his differences with the former president, but in a way designed to end the divisions of Iraq, not perpetuate them.


There are several other articles at different levels of criticism out there about this mission and whether Obama actually accomplished anything. . Some, more critical than others. Although I appreciate and admire his independent conservative viewpoint and very often times agree with David Frum, the subject of Obama’s speech seemed to be the center of this post entitled Obama’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ Moment. It was angry and more partisan than I thought was needed considering we just accomplished something TOGETHER as Americans in a non partisan way!

This is from the FrumForum

Instead, Obama spent most of his speech bragging about everything that he and his administration supposedly are doing to help veterans. It was, in short, a political campaign speech and not a substantive policy speech.

Oh, to be sure, Obama reiterated America’s commitment to Afghanistan; but that’s scant comfort to an Iraqi who heard only that Obama is “ending” the war in Iraq. Not winning, not prevailing, not achieving victory — in fact, the words “winning,” “success,”  “victory,” “prevail,” et al. never even passed Obama’s lips, only “ending.”

But of course, something can “end” in defeat. And in fact, that’s a real danger in Iraq if the president remains disengaged from the conflict there and refuses to assert himself. Outsourcing Iraq to Vice President Biden simply won’t cut it. The president needs to get involved and to stay on it. He is, after all, the commander-in-chief and everyone knows it.


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Syrin
    May 03, 2011 @ 16:22:42

    It took a president’s approval to make this mission happen. President Obama is that President, and I thank him for making the right decision.

    From my daughter in Afghanistan

    Pretty freakin badass. Obama was able to keep this secret and make tough calls, keep our intel what it was… OURS. We didn’t tell our allies. we used the best resources. He made a tough call and thought first before just going in there guns blazing. I’m impressed. I never say anything about politics. But I’m impressed with this and proud to be an American.


    • majii
      May 03, 2011 @ 17:18:28

      I’m taking your daughter’s word because she’s risking her life to help solve the terrorism problem. Please tell her how grateful I am to her and her comrades for doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. The talking heads are exactly that: talking heads without any skin in the game.

      I know you’re very proud of your daughter, and you have every right to be!


    • Mallard
      May 04, 2011 @ 09:17:14

      Sighren: That your daughter is serving in Afghanistan is terrific. She is one of the best and brightest in our country.
      It was angry and more partisan than I thought was needed considering we just accomplished something TOGETHER as Americans in a non partisan way!
      You’ve missed the point, again. In Obama’s speech, he talked about what HE accomplished. Compare his I, I, I, I rhetoric with anything GWB has said and you will see the stark difference. GWB sp0ke for the country to the country. Obama speaks of himself.

      In the same way, Obama never speaks of American victory or signals to the country that it is a good thing. It isn’t Frum’s attitude that is dividing the country. Frum is expressing widespread frustration at how Obama never seems to appeal to the unity of the American people.

      First and foremost, the President of the United States (whomever it is) needs to be a “cheerleader” for this country. Can you imagine a CEO of a company saying, “Yes our product is great, just like brand x thinks their product is great, and brand y thinks their product is great.” No, the President needs to be out there reminding us and the world why America is exceptional and that we stand for individual freedom and liberty for all. Haven’t heard much of that from Obama.


      • LakeLucilleLoon
        May 04, 2011 @ 15:19:27

        But we are not exceptional, America that is. We are merely the current world power that is trying to keep on top of the heap by bullying other countries. We are on the downslide because we do not breed exceptional people that have true goals for success. We have new generation that has not excelled on the educational front, and that is why China will become the new world power and have us in their pocket. We did okay though, America will be known in the history books of the future of having been on top of the heap for perhaps 250 years or so. Can’t really compare to the Egyptians who had a 4 millennium run or other countries such as Britain that dominated Europe and beyond for nearly 700 years. But, we gave it our best and then we became fat and lazy and dumb and then lost it to others who try harder.

      • AKRNC
        May 04, 2011 @ 17:20:30

        President Obama has frequently spoken about what an exceptional country this is, how proud he is to be an American and how only in this country could someone rise from his background to become President. If he said “I”, “I”, “I”, as you said he did, so be it. If he had failed, you would be the first one pointing the finger at him, focusing the blame solely on him. However, unlike others such as Palin, Bush, etc., President Obama has said, “the buck stops here” meaning he will accept the failure as his own when it happens. He doesn’t run from the risk. I still remember Bush awkwardly and ignorantly pretending to look for WMD’s during the WHCD and watching it with a friend whose brother was serving at the time in Iraq. She was so disgusted, I thought she was going to throw something at the television. Palin, is also a typical GOP “leader” never accepting responsibility for anything that went wrong on her watch. I read about how she was handed a report on the increase in crime while she was governor and she asked the person who handed it to her who was going to accept the blame for it. She was told it fell to her and she said that it wasn’t going to be her and not to even consider announcing the results. This is typical GOP leadership from these far right loonies. There have been many decent Republicans in office just as there have been the same on the Democratic side. But when the loonies speak louder and screech for attention, they take away the reality of those who are getting the job done as in President Obama’s courageous decision to go after bin Laden. It was courageous, considering if we had just gone ahead and bombed the compound, we would never have known for certain if we had killed bin Laden and President Obama would have been criticized for not going in to get bin Laden personally. No matter what happens with President Obama, there are some people who will refuse to give him credit when due. I didn’t care for many of President Bush’s decisions, but I respected the office as a patriotic American and I expect those who feel the same way about President Obama to do the same. Unfortunately, those very same people who claim they are patriotic, are anything but. If they were truly patriotic Americans, they would not be denigrating the current occupant of the office of the President in a public manner.

      • Mallard
        May 05, 2011 @ 17:19:28

        Lucy Loon:

        Careful, you are projecting again when you talk about how “…we became fat and lazy and dumb and then lost it to others who try harder.” Really, speak for yourself.

        America is the only country established on the basis of an idea: freedom, equality, and individual liberty. This is remarkable at any time but even more so in the 18th century when kings and queens still ruled Europe. Through America, the world is a much better place due to our innovative discoveries, our incredible amounts of charity, and our desire to preserve liberty in the face of tyranny and collectivism. No other country in the world can even begin to say that. Yes, we are exceptional.

        Now I can hear the creaking gears in your liberal mind sputter that American is evil and we had slavery and etc. etc. etc. If you want to degrade our nation and not focus on the enormous good this country has done and stands for, that is your right (since you live in America). I’d like to know who you think which country has out shined this one.

        It is the liberals and the statists that have become “fat lazy and dumb” with their belief that the government should take care of us all.

  2. LakeLucilleLoon
    May 03, 2011 @ 22:32:17

    As long as people continue to fight over religion, war will be a reality in the Middle East. It’s just the latest version of the Crusades, except oil is involved now. Once all human minds evolve beyond the point of needing religions to justify our existence and explain natural phenomena, we will have religious wars. It’s been happening for millennia. It will remain as factions of religious people find objections to each other’s beliefs.


  3. AKRNC
    May 04, 2011 @ 01:35:50

    Syrin, I had no idea you have a daughter in Afghanistan. I guess I’m too used to those with the ability to convey the news they have a loved one serving in the military to do it repeatedly, like Palin.

    My prayers are with your daughter and all of our troops that they will begin to draw down now from Afghanistan and in Iraq. I truly believe it is time to bring them all home.

    I’m proud of our military and the operation they pulled off so successfully with the help of the intelligence divisions. President Obama had a decision to make and although I believe it is the right decision, it took courage to do so and I’m happy to see that there are people like you in the Republican party who don’t hesitate to also give him the credit he deserves. We all know that if anything had gone wrong, he’d have been responsible for the same.


  4. Albert Lewis
    May 04, 2011 @ 02:18:45

    >At the time his speech was conceived, earlier in the summer …

    It’s summer already? Dang … I guess I missed spring altogether.


  5. Olivia
    May 04, 2011 @ 05:08:18

    Syrin, I love reading your blog. It is so nice to get a well read and well considered conservative viewpoint. I have many conservative friends like you who actually think and read and form opinions I may not always agree with but I respect because they aren’t parroting talking points from entities like Fox news. The reality is that most people have both conservative and liberal opinions and ideas about many things. The country is crying for sane conservative views to be aired. Without them there is no dialog. It is so sad that the teabaggers have drowned sanity out. God bless your daughter and keep her from harm. I have one grandchild there soon to be joined by another.


    • Syrin
      May 04, 2011 @ 07:36:39

      Thank you for your kind words. My prayer is daily for all who are defending this nation. We’re blessed to have amazing American families! Thank you everyone for your sacrifice of your children and grandchildren!


  6. Sarah HalfTime
    May 04, 2011 @ 07:20:49

    Hugs syrin, big hugs.


  7. climber357
    May 04, 2011 @ 07:37:34

    ¨Pretty freakin badass.¨

    Damn straight. Could not have said it better.


  8. Trackback: Obama said by 8/31/2010 IRAQ war would be over with??? « THE STR

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