Last night’s Presidential address on Iraq was written and shaped, in part, by John Boehner. Boehner re-drew the rhetorical battle lines on Iraq, neutering the administration looking for a win heading into campaign season.
Throughout August, Boehner and Republicans have been talking about Iraq with a fairly consistent message of thanks to the troops for their service in Iraq, crediting them for victory. It’s not a controversial message, but one they beat the drum on pretty well. That made it difficult for the Obama Administration to give the speech they probably would have liked to give last night.
Did you notice (as Politico’s Roger Simon did) that the thrust of the speech had little to do with the Iraq war itself? When the President spoke on Iraq, he echoed Boehner’s talking points in speaking about the troops’ resolve. The final half of the speech delved into future military strategy, and then wended into domestic policy in an awkward attempt to tie policy consensus to support for the troops.
In a vacuum, a skilled orator like Obama might have claimed credit for ending the conflict started by his predecessor – a tack he has used repeatedly for his economic policies – and called for unity after a long national nightmare. There might have even been a few digs at the rationale behind the war in the first place, Easter eggs for the far left supporters who will be crucial campaign activists in the coming elections.
Instead, Obama gave a speech which reads like it could have been given by John Boehner.
UPDATE: I meant to include this earlier, and just plum forgot. To get a sense of what the speech may have looked like in the imagined vacuum, check out the opening of the email Organizing for America sent around last night over the President’s signature:
Tonight marks the end of the American combat mission in Iraq.
As a candidate for this office, I pledged to end this war responsibly. And, as President, that is what I am doing.
Since I became Commander-in-Chief, we’ve brought home nearly 100,000 U.S. troops. We’ve closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of our bases… Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest — it is in our own. Our nation has paid a huge price to put Iraq’s future in the hands of its people. We have sent our men and women in uniform to make enormous sacrifices. We have spent vast resources abroad in the face of several years of recession at home.
3 thoughts on “Winning on Iraq”
Given the circumstances, the President said what needed to be said. Nothing more, nothing less.
I mostly agree, though the domestic stuff at the end – rambling on about the need for a middle class, etc. – was somewhat extraneous. I usually keep Presidential addresses / State of the Union speeches on as background noise since nothing new or interesting tends to be said, but when he started talking about domestic priorities it stuck me as slightly out of place.
Other than that, I absolutely agree that Obama said what he had to say politically. But that doesn’t change that the stage was pretty much set for him, and if had it to do over again, he might have owned the messaging on this. Strictly from a PR perspective, though the administration could have scored a win; instead they had a solemn speech that checked the necessary boxes.