As President Barack Obama helpfully explained last night on the TV, the Iraq War is over. "Time to turn the page" and end "the American combat mission in Iraq." Except for the 50,000 or so troops still there, who will no longer be "combat troops" but advisors, traffic cops, social workers, and bake-sale overseers. Who will stay there until the end of 2011 (or longer, if you believe folks such as Washington Times' national security correspondent Eli Lake, or the thousands of U.S. troops sending emails from the Korean peninsula).
Iraq was not just an elective war, a non sequitur in what used to be called the "global war on terror," it's been a war filled with obfuscations, misdirections, and bogus claims that have never been fully accounted for. Obama's speech last night simply continues that sorry tradition, thus extending not simply the fog of war generally but disrespecting the more than 4,000 American soldiers whose blood has been spilled in a misbegotten adventure in hubris straight out of the Shelley poem, Ozymandias:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Iraq, you're on your own now. U.S. soldiers (sorry, coalition soldiers; another obfuscation), you're on your own, too. Keep your heads down until the actual withdrawal of troops, whenever that might be. "We have met our responsibility," says Obama, whose eyes are already on another "mission accomplished" speech, the one he'll give in Afghanistan whenever it becomes politically expedient to do so. "As was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves." The evacuation of Afghanistan will famously depend on "conditions on the ground," but will start next August. Write it down in your calendar.
And, by the way, the real problem facing the U.S., says Obama, his "most urgent task," is attending to the sick American economy, which, like Iraq, he avers, was broke when he got it. That may pass for leadership in Washington, but it is not hope, change, or anything worth celebrating or getting behind.
We shouldn't have gone into Iraq and we shouldn't still be waddling around in Afghanistan; the original mission there—to find bin Laden and bring him and his comrades in terror—to justice, has long gone as missing its quarry. We shouldn't have poured more money into stimulus spending and not simply immoral but ineffective bailouts (of Wall Street, mortgage holders, car companies, you name it).
The lesson from last night's speech was clear, though different than what Obama intended: Do not expect politicians to do the right thing under the worst of circumstances or under the best. Politics is a marathon game of blaming the guy before you and kicking the can down the road until the next guy comes along, the Le Mans of abdicating responsibility while mouthing its language.
The only thing we can do is hold politicians—Democrats and Republicans who voted for war, stimulus, national security overkill, and so much more – accountable when their time for approval comes due. And the next time and the next time after that.
Full text of Obama's speech is here.