The president’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq with a sort-of firm deadline is meeting with generally favorable reviews. It could have been worse — more abrupt and lacking the promise of a significant residual force. But it could have been better.
First, there simply is no need other than the care and feeding of the netroot-left to declare a certain withdrawal date, even one nineteen rather than sixteen months out. Why give adversaries a target, quite literally to shoot at? Tom Donnelly has, I think, raised another critical point, about the president’s language. The president went on at length about the Iraq war veterans’ burdens and hardships and the social services the president will extend to them and their families. Donnelly explains:
This is a very subtle form of the soldier-as-victim trope that is fast becoming an Iraq legacy. For soldiers throughout history–those who have endured physical and emotional sufferings of an essential similar quality, if less clinically expressed–the trials of war were at least partially ameliorated by the salve of personal honor and, if the battle went well, the celebration of a victory. The troops who have served and serve still in Iraq should be singled out not just for the burdens of the fight but because they emerge from it, as Bing West’s book puts it, as the “strongest tribe.”
Perhaps had the president said more — about the remarkable victory and about the prospects for democracy and stability in a country decimated by tyranny it would have been a more balanced portrayal of the armed services. He comes closer than he has in the past:
You have endured tour after tour after tour of duty. You have known the dangers of combat and the lonely distance of loved ones. You have fought against tyranny and disorder. You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq. Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honor, and succeeded beyond any expectation.
Today, I have come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.
To understand where we need to go in Iraq, it is important for the American people to understand where we now stand. Thanks in great measure to your service, the situation in Iraq has improved. Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs. The capacity of Iraq’s Security Forces has improved, and Iraq’s leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation. The relative peace and strong participation in January’s provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come in pursuing their aspirations through a peaceful political process.
Still, his subordinates are left to confirm the obvious — the surge made our success possible. But the president does not come out and say what we virtually all know to be true: we are on the precipice of a remarkable accomplishment. The members of the armed services didn’t just suffer or carry a burden — they did so to achieve a great victory. That’s what was, and has been missing, from the president’s rhetoric from the get go. To love and care for the troops is to recognize and honor them for what they have done. The commander-in-chief should know better.