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Standards for a successful Iraq speech

An experiment. Having helped produce a number of presidential speeches to the nation, I know it is harder than it looks. Critics have it easy. They make their judgments after a speech is given, criticizing lapses the speakers and their speechwriters did not foresee, moving the goalposts at will.

So let me set out a few standards of judgment before Obama’s Iraq speech tonight – then revisit them briefly after it is delivered.

A successful speech, in my view, would have five elements:

  • First, it should have a Lincolnian purpose – to heal the domestic divisions caused by the Iraq War, instead of laying claim to political credit for the fulfillment of a campaign pledge. The first is the ambition of a president; the other is evidence of a mere politician. The overall goal of the speech should be to get past old arguments so that a unified nation can focus on continuing security challenges.

  • Second, the address should express a strong commitment to the success of the Iraqi government. The message cannot be: “Good luck with your sovereignty, now you’re on your own.” America has a direct, continuing national interest in an Iraq that can govern and defend itself, and that remains an ally in the war on terrorism. The form of American aid to Iraq will change over time, but this commitment should be clearly affirmed.

  • Third, Obama should be genuinely gracious to his predecessor, George W. Bush – not only because Bush deserves credit for his decision on the surge, but because Obama would look bad if he seems grudging and small in a large historical moment.

  • Fourth, Obama should make a strong case for America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), since fighting in the region is likely to intensify throughout the fall. He remains a wartime president. He needs to express his personal determination and set out a vision for success.

  • Fifth, the president should resist the advice of his political advisors to make some awkward transition to the economy. It is a questionable political strategy to give a foreign policy speech to the nation two months before an election that will be determined by economic issues. But cramming in a few obligatory paragraphs on jobs, jobs, jobs will not help matters. And it would likely hurt the speech itself.


By Michael Gerson  | August 31, 2010; 5:19 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Comments

Trying to make nice with one who has no intention of nice play is a fool's move, Gerson.

It's time to call out the GOP for what it is - a wealthy nucleus of a few leading a long line of extremely retarded, racist, deadbeat, insecure, bullying ingrates who don't deserve the gift of being an American.

Posted by: mmax | August 31, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson expresses a nice thought about healing the country's divisions. It's also very naive and juvenile to expect people who hate Obama because of the color of his skin, his father's alleged religion, or his birth-place to reach any kind of civil accomodation.

Posted by: BBear1 | August 31, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

You forget, as a speech writer for Republicans, that for a Democrat, it must also be factual and not full of distortions. Gee, wonder why the president is so reluctant to say, "Mission Accomplished?" That said, he does need some better speech writers and to be more positive and inspirational. A little caution is good, but it should never take away from the truth.

Posted by: wd1214 | August 31, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

The writer does not want the President to speak about the years of the war preceeding the surge in 2007. This he suggests would deepen the hurt of the American people. So the faulty premise that was used to go to war must not be spoken about. The disastrous immediate aftermath must not be spoken about. What the writer does not also want the President to speak about is the previous President's (George Bush) recklessness in plunging America into a senseless war.

What the writer however wants President Obama to speak about is how wise the previous President was in ordering the surge in 2007. President Obama must be fullsome in his praise of his predesesor. President Obama must speak as if the invasion of Iraq began in 2007. Indeed many Americans have now come to regard the invasion of Iraq has begining in 2007.

For healing to take place the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth must be spoken. Truth must not be a slave to our partisan political interest.

Posted by: devonsamuels | August 31, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I disagree; trying to make nice with Gersons' gop friends is a fools errand. Time to take the gloves off. The lesson is this: never stop campaigning, never stop pushing the republicans faces into the pile of $%&# they left for Obama (and the rest of us)!

Posted by: michael5 | August 31, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

It astonishes me that Gerson, a man who was been CAUGHT LYING in presidential speeches, should dare to comment on an Iraq speech. I sincerely hope that Gerson will one day have to explain his lies about Iraq to the International Criminal Court.

Posted by: bourassa1 | August 31, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Bush was wrong to attack Iraq, and you were wrong to cheer lead it.

You think now, after all these years and all those billions, you and he ought to get a gracious thank you for the mess you made and never got cleaned up?

I don't think so.

Posted by: dutchess2 | August 31, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Gerson used to write speeches for the guy who lied us into the Iraq war, the Worst President In History, George Bush.

Gerson should be hiding in a hole out of shame, or down at the nearest VA hospital apologizing to the wounded. His opinion is worthless.

Thank you, President Obama, for getting us out of that useless, phony, made-up war in Iraq, which only served to remove the only effective check on Iranian power in the Middle East, and which has left Iran more of a threat than ever.

Posted by: losthorizon10 | August 31, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

~~~YAWN~~~

If I were not so tired, I would tell Gerson to stick it where the sun does not shine.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | August 31, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Iraq was about WMD'S it is about IRAN'S,IRANS'S,IRAN'S Will the "Speech Giver" say anything about this threat tonight that he has ignored!! The world just became more dangerous in the last week with Iran fireing up its reactor. We have 50,000 troops to Iran's west in Iraq and 130,000 troops to the east of Iran in Afghanistan. Seven troops died Monday there and 21 in the last 48 hours. The Foreign JIHADIST have moved to Afghanistan Because of the surge in Iraq and the training of its own security forces. The media has always tried to say it was a War in Iraq and a War in Afgahnistan.

It is "ONE WAR" and it is against RADICAL ISLAM that is being fought on many fronts. JIHADISTS are in Iraq,Afghanistan,Yemen,Somalia,Phillipines and lets not forget the USA. Iraq was stabalized during the surge when the Iraq's realized that the FOREIGN JIHADISTS were a bigger threat to them than the Americans. Iran supplied alot of the IED's, but it was JIHADIST from all over the world that planted them!! Iraq was easy to enter by Foreign JIHADISTS compared to Afghanistan who is much more tribal and very hard to enter because of terrain.

So what is the "Speech Giver" going to talk about tonight. The same thing he always does "HIMSELF" !!! This is a joke to give a speech about troop reductions and a campaign promise. He has lied to WE THE PEOPLE about everything. I do not trust this man one bit. I bet the economy and GREEN jobs will be worked into it too !!! The monwy that has been spent on the security of America is pennies compared to the SPECIAL INTEREST STIMULS BILLS that have been passed.

TERM LIMITS NOW !!

FAIR TAX NOW !!

DEATH TO JIHADISTS !!

SECURE THE BORDERS !!

STOP THE SPECIAL INTEREST BAILOUTS !!

Posted by: 79USMC83 | August 31, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

The only credit that Comrade Bush deserves is paying off the massive debt he dragged America into with these unfunded foreign civil wars of Republican adventure.

I for one am glad that President Obama announced the end of both wars and that all of our troops would be home by Xmas. And that all mercenaries in both countries were being fired within two weeks.

Posted by: WillSeattle | August 31, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Listen Gerson, the NEOCON nightmare is over...over.!!! We have no 'continuing commitment' to Iraq. We got rid of Saddam...we found no Nuclear weapons, no nerve gas...nada....zilch...nothing.

There are no "divisions" to heal. Simply because the public stopped giving a damn about Iraq years ago, except for the families who had their loved ones in harms way...or worse.


You, Bill Kristol, Podhoretz...the rest of you ....can go to hell.

Posted by: LeftGuy | August 31, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Bush dropped the bloody ball, diverted our military resources and billions in borrowed money from a fight the nation, and the world, supported us in against the people who actually attacked us.

In case anybody has forgotten, two thirds of Iraq was a no-fly zone, with allied warplanes patrolling 24/7. Iraq was under UN Sanctions and Saddam Hussein couldn't take a leak without the rest of the world knowing about it.

There was no rational reason whatsoever for us to invade Iraq; even his old man knew that! Bush Sr. probably knew that because he actually had a foreign policy background and wasn't hearing voices from "God!" He knew what chaos would result from removing Hussein, whatever kind of tyrant he was!

No spin can change the fact that our misadventure in Iraq diverted resources from the primary campaign against Al Quida, allowed them time to regroup, and that is why we are still in Afghanistan, stuck in a quagmire, and trying to figure out how to get out; just like Vietnam!

Obama should walk on stage, say we're done in Iraq. He should then demand that former President Bush, and his boss Dick Cheney, publicly apologize to the families of the thousands of good soldiers lost in this catastrophic foreign policy error, the many more thousands injured and maimed for life, and to the US taxpayer for wasting billions of dollars that we, our kids, and our grand kids will be paying off for generations!

These Republicans whining about deficits spent to keep the US economy from collapsing completely, didn't say a word about this massive boondoggle!

Posted by: risejugger | August 31, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Fourth, Obama should make a strong case for stopping America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), since fighting in the region is likely to damage our national intrests and create a million new terrorists.

Obama is a warmonger, just like his predecessor. He deserves to be a one term president.

Posted by: alance | August 31, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

I could hardly watch. He looked so ridiculous. He needs a smaller desk because he looked like a Black Alfred E. Newman.

Content - no one is buying his socialist agenda. He had no enthusiasm, really seemed demoralized.

I know America needs and deserves much better. November will tell the tale.

Posted by: 2012frank | August 31, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Unbelievable that Gerson dared to write this column. The man has no shame.

Posted by: hellslittlestangel1 | August 31, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Man, I really gotta admit, it bugs the heck out of me when commenters on a blog post cloak themselves in their military service by making it explicit in their tag/handle.

And it's 2007. Stop shouting in all caps. Degrades the discourse.

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | August 31, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Excellent points from both commentators. This was a classic blah, blah, blah speech of meaningless generalities, delivered in a monotone--his hands clenched to keep them from flailing around as they tend to do--a tiny crumb about economy and then strangely, the speech looped back upon itself. He was tense and motionless.
What I noticed was the delusion of defeating the Taliban in a year. They were all marking their calendars. How many people will die in this cause? How much money? For what?
Also, Obama said at the UN that NO country should be over others--now suddenly we're back to America as leader of the free world. Looks like his handlers took a few notes from Beck's rally.
He doesn't get it, he'll never get it. All he can do is talk...and not very well.

Posted by: Beckola | August 31, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse


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Posted by: ssdfknwefo | August 31, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

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.

As Operation Iraqi Freedom ends, our commitment to a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq continues. Under Operation New Dawn, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain to advise and assist Iraqi forces, protect our civilians on the ground, and pursue targeted counterterrorism efforts.

By the end of next year, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, these men and women, too, will come home.

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.

We have met our responsibility through the courage and resolve of our women and men in uniform.

In seven years, they confronted a mission as challenging and as complex as any our military has ever been asked to face.

Nearly 1.5 million Americans put their lives on the line. Many returned for multiple tours of duty, far from their loved ones who bore a heroic burden of their own. And most painfully, more than 4,400 Americans have given their lives, fighting for people they never knew, for values that have defined our people for more than two centuries.

What their country asked of them was not small. And what they sacrificed was not easy.

For that, each and every American owes them our heartfelt thanks.

Our promise to them -- to each woman or man who has donned our colors -- is that our country will serve them as faithfully as they have served us. We have already made the largest increase in funding for veterans in decades. So long as I am President, I will do whatever it takes to fulfill that sacred trust.

Tonight, we mark a milestone in our nation's history. Even at a time of great uncertainty for so many Americans, this day and our brave troops remind us that our future is in our own hands and that our best days lie ahead.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Posted by: Genefox1 | August 31, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

First he said we should honor our fighting forces sacrifice by coming together to hold up our end and create the America where children live better than their parents.
Second we will be there to help the transition to Iraqi self rule. You are for the freedom we enjoy here you will get a helping hand.
Third love of our troops and patriotic was praise for Dubya.
Fourth is there some part of not leaving Afghanistan as a base for terror that Gerson missed.
Fifth Obama is not very successful at job recovery but he has righted the ship from floundering and sinking, the GOP platform is more of the same, no helping hand or radical abolishment of social security and medicare to cut the top 2% taxes in half (Ryan's pamphlet).

Posted by: jameschirico | August 31, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Memo to Hiatt:
Cohen's drivel and my 5 point repudiation of Gerson should tell you neocon nonsense should at least be fact checked for accuracy. Who's the next neocon to write drivel Sean Hannity?

Posted by: jameschirico | August 31, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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