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Turning the page

September 11, 2010
By Dr. David Turner

Barack Obama's assertion that the United States needed to "turn the page" on the Iraq war marked the first time he showed that his primary concern was peace.

The very issue that propelled him to victory in the Iowa caucuses in 2008 for once came to the fore in the spirit of candidate Obama. Preliminary surveys showed a brief bump in his popularity, and the stock market rallied. Suddenly peace was adjudged good for Wall Street.

Republicans tripped over themselves to once again claim "mission accomplished," asserting that the "surge" provided the conditions which allowed for Obama's action. Like the first declaration of victory by President George W. Bush, it had a hollow ring. Obama withdrew because although the surge provided some security briefly - the recent uptick in violence demonstrated that the United States could not correct the divisions in Iraqis society.

Obama particularly focused on the strain that Mr. Bush's War had placed on the American economy. The speech had the mark of a realization by the president that to appease the national security establishment was to risk his aspiration domestically. Perhaps he may use the opportunity to re-assess the Afghan War before it becomes "Obama's War." Gen. David Petraeus no doubt will try to persuade the president that those quick short-term solutions such as purchasing support from Sunni tribesmen, the so-called awakening, can be applied to Afghanistan. The president should reject these fig leaf approaches and refuse to implement these decent interval tactics in favor of a course that places responsibilities on the shoulders of Afghans.

To his credit Obama did not attempt to treat the Iraq War as a triumph - but as a tragic interlude. He paid tribute to those who had paid a "huge price" in a flawed effort.

It is interesting that Republicans are eager to see Iraq as a "victory" once more proving they have learned nothing. Instead they wave the flag, make noises, talk about shared sacrifice, all the while wanting to cut veterans programs. What Obama approached as a solemn act, the Republicans saw as an opportunity to peddle the cheapest variety of patriotism. At least the president appreciated and acknowledged the sacrifices of those who actually have gone to Iraq, rather than those who saluted the effort while taking orders from such armchair patriots as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Republicans would be well advised not to make much of a fuss over Obama versus Bush on the war. American opinion considers the war a mistake and even the GOP does not advocate a re-entry in Iraq. The 50,000 left behind will try to keep the lid on if the various factions in Iraq allow them. But Obama makes it quite clear that he will stick to the timetable. Nothing is more convincing than a president that has kept his word and at least in the case of Iraq, Obama has proven he was better than his promises. His opponents will look foolish if, in their zeal to criticize the president, seem ever too eager to give war a chance.

For those "New Democrats" of the Bill Clinton strip, such aspirations to responsibility limit the U.S. role in the world, Obama must seem naive. In fact, the opposite is true, the Blue Dogs and their neo-conservative allies have yet to admit the damage the adventure in Iraq cost the country. Obama, in this case, is the real practitioner of Realpolitik. America could choose to compound the damage in a fit of foolish pride, instead it opts for a sensible withdrawal.

Obama's speech was the sign his supporters needed. For months, the voices of Robert Gates, David Petraeus and the now discredited Stanley McChrystal were what the core heard. For a time it seemed that Obama was being lured by the same forces that produced the war in the first place. His remarks and wise observations once more reminded voters why the voted for him in November 2008.



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