With just a few exceptions, the reviews of President Obama’s speech last night were much too charitable.
At best the speech was petty; at worst it was myopic. The only acknowledgement of George W. Bush came when Obama said that the former president loved the troops and his country. That was it. How magnanimous — from someone who was spectacularly wrong about the surge, who proclaimed it would be a disaster, who sat silently when a senator whom he later selected as his secretary of state called General Petraeus (the architect of the surge) a liar, and who selected a vice president whose own proposal for Iraq was a monument to vapidity.
Yet because Obama was so heavily invested in opposition to the war, so wedded to a narrative of failure and defeat, he couldn’t muster the grace, class, and wisdom to recognize the new reality forged by our troops and, yes, by George W. Bush. The best he could do was a cursory, almost throwaway line about how our troops “completed every mission they were given.”
But the new reality is bracing: Saddam Hussein (whom Obama didn’t even mention) is dead. He is no longer a rampaging threat to declare war on his neighbors; he can no longer exterminate whole classes of his citizens; he can no longer fund and provide safe haven for terrorists; he can no longer use oil as a weapon; and he can no longer pursue biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
But Obama couldn’t be bothered with these trivialities. He simply declared that it was time to “turn the page.” The page, evidently, of a tired and boring story that distracts from his more transcendent interests and his primary objective to “fundamentally transform America.”
No one expected a victory lap. The work in Iraq is far from done, and the victory is fragile.
But this is a time when Americans expect their president to be not just commander-in-chief but also patriot-in-chief; to engender pride in the good and remarkable accomplishments of our warriors; and not to render a dispiriting assessment of the war’s economic consequences. Obama needed a prime-time Oval Office address for this?
The speech was an insult to the men and women who gave their lives and limbs to accomplish an amazing, if contingent, feat. It was an insult to their families and friends. It was an insult to our allies (whom Obama barely acknowledged), especially to the Brits who fought and died alongside our troops. It was an insult to every American who believes in American exceptionalism.