Commentary Magazine


Sadly, Obama Needs the Advice

Bill Kristol has penned an open note to the president with suggestions for his speech on Iraq. It should be read in its entirety, for it is chock-full of sage advice (e.g., thank the generals responsible, praise the Iraqis who fought and died). Most important is this plea:

And I hope you would also explain that, whatever one’s views of the decision to go to war, we now have a moral obligation and strategic opportunity to help a free and democratic Iraq succeed. This means emphasizing that we expect to work closely with Iraq in the future, and that we are open to stationing troops there. It means not repeating the vulgar and counter-productive emphasis in your Saturday address—”But the bottom line is this: the war is ending. Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course. And by the end of next year, all our troops will be home.”

None of this is controversial, none of it is partisan. But it is remarkable that the advice need be given at all and that Obama to date hasn’t explained what we have accomplished or the importance of establishing a stable, non-despotic, non-terror supporting state in the Middle East. He perpetually focuses on the draw-down, the fulfillment of a promise by a candidate who opposed the winning strategy.

On one level, it is shocking — that a president would downplay success in one battlefield while we remain engaged in another. Had Iraq disintegrated into genocidal chaos, our task in Afghanistan would have been infinitely more difficult; and — to the extent that Obama’s agonizing and withdrawal deadline has not undercut it — the Iraq war has demonstrated that America will not abandon allies or oppressed people (Muslims, specifically — how’s that for Muslim outreach?). One would think that would be an argument Obama would want to make.

But as we learned from the stunning New York Times report, he’s really not that much into being commander in chief. Well, he is commander in chief, and he should start acting like it rather than a candidate auditioning for the endorsement.

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