President Obama’s Oval Office address, just the second he has made in his half term, was dramatically underwhelming. There was nothing new and little, if anything, that was emotionally stirring. We knew that our combat troops had been removed from Iraq, as he had pledged as a candidate. But we also know that Iraq’s democracy is fragile, it has yet to form a representative government, and the capacity of Iraq’s security forces to defend the unstable peace is tenuous at best. What will happen to the 50,000 “non-combat” troops we left there if sporadic episodes of violence flare into widespread conflagration?
In advance of the speech, the White House had smartly said this was not a “victory lap.” No version of Bush era “Mission Accomplished” banner here. Last night on CNN, David Gergen likened the theme of the Iraq announcement as “getting the monkey off our back.”
The President praised former President George W. Bush for being a “patriot” and supporting our troops but didn’t concede the surge might have helped strategically. Mostly, Obama talked about it’s being “time to turn the page.” He spoke about our partnership with Iraq in moving ahead, but we’re hardly “outta there.” He also spoke about partnering in Afghanistan and restated his commitment to begin withdrawing from that country, starting next summer, based on conditions “on the ground.” No cause for optimism there either.
He also threw in a few lines about how our influence abroad must be anchored at home, by dealing with education, our dependence on foreign oil, the need for nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship. But these seemed to be throw-away lines, sprinkling them in the speech like raisins in a rice pudding.
As The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen pointed out, the theme lacked punch. Said Cohen of the address, “The best that can be said for it is that it suited the Iraq war itself. Like the war, it should not have been undertaken.”
The President’s body language was tight; he had no energy, no passion, and no unified driving message. We expect more from Oval Office speeches to the nation. We certainly expect more from Barack Obama.
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