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At an historic moment, Obama's forgettable speech

Before offering an assessment of last night’s speech, it is worth recognizing the historic nature of the moment. A little over three years ago, it was possible, even likely, that America would suffer a major military defeat at the center of its interests in the Middle East – a defeat of greater practical and psychological impact than the American loss in Vietnam. Iraq was descending into civil war, perhaps into genocide. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was gaining control over whole regions of the country. Six years after Sept. 11, terrorists and insurgents were on the verge of a victory against the United States.

Given this context, President Obama’s announcement of the end of combat operations is a tremendous national accomplishment. The outcome in Iraq, though far from ideal or settled, has demonstrated the resilience and adaptability of the American military, the patience of our country in a difficult cause, and the importance of determined wartime leadership.

This achievement deserved a historical marker, at least a modest rhetorical monument. But Obama’s effort – employing tired metaphors, culminating in a call to improve America’s “manufacturing base” and “long-term competitiveness” – was forgettable.

Returning to the standards of judgment I set out last night before the speech, the results were mixed.

  • 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 president could not resist a mention of his “pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office” – a self-serving political moment out of place in the Oval Office. But Obama did not re-litigate the Iraq war. He recognized sincere motives on all sides, and called on Americans to move beyond past divisions. He asserted that political common ground could be found in appreciation for the troops. But his ambivalence about the Iraq war itself prevented him from specifically praising what those troops helped to accomplish – the removal of a long-standing American enemy and the unprecedented development of a multi-ethnic representative government in the Arab Middle East.

  • Second, the address should express a strong commitment to the success of the Iraqi government.

Here the president succeeded. “Our combat mission is ending,” said the president, “but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” His assurances were specific and important.

  • 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.

Obama’s mention of Bush was prominent, but not particularly gracious. He said that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security” – as though any of those things were in doubt. Obama could not bring himself to praise Bush for the surge strategy that made last night’s speech possible.

  • 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.

The president briefly made the case for defeating al-Qaeda in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan and “preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.” But his emphasis – “make no mistake” – was on the clearly lighted exit sign. While troop reductions would be “determined by conditions on the ground,” there will be no “open-ended war.” Instead of resolution and determination, Obama expressed ambiguity – the unresolved ambiguity at the center of his Afghan policy.

  • Fifth, the president should resist the advice of his political advisors to make some awkward transition to the economy.

Here the president succumbed. The add-on was awkward – snippets of a typical Democratic stump speech on energy policy, education reform and job training. It was useless, but not harmless. By presenting these vague and typical domestic agenda items as America’s “most urgent task,” the president indicated that events in Iraq and Afghanistan were a distraction from his real agenda. Obama is a conflicted, reluctant wartime leader, and wants everyone to know it.

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained – “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions – but this was not one of them.

For more from Michael Gerson on the president's messaging, read Obama's economic wandering.

By Michael Gerson  | September 1, 2010; 8:01 AM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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It certainly didn't sound like a historically significant speech. It was more like a press conference blurb out on the hustings in Iowa. I would say it's forgettable but I think it's already forgotten. Lost opportunity for the President.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | September 1, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

For all the analysis by the pundits, the actual viewers who called into C-span last night following the broadcast, and again during the first 45 min. segment when viewers called in this morning, had a far different assessment. Overwhelming majority of callers from all 3 parties, including Republicans, endorsed what the president had to say and an increasing number of Republicans and Independents now say this was a war that should never have been entered into. So....pundits can parse and criticize, but what's important is what the American people came away with from last night's speech.

Posted by: bpotter110 | September 1, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Is there anything more amusing than when the author of speeches for the worst spoken president in generations criticizes this or any other speech? I don't think so.

Posted by: Rasputin1 | September 1, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson, as a strong proponent of an illegal war for oil, you have no credibility whatsoever. You sir, like your master, have blood on your hands. Were there justice, you, he, and others of your ilk would be spending the next few years in jail. You're not fit to shine Mr. Obama's shoes much less criticize his speech.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | September 1, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

OMan is in over his head and not well served by those around him. Hope and Change!

Posted by: TheDubb | September 1, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I get it. If Obama had let Gerson write the speech he'd have sounded just like . . . like . . . George W Bush !

Posted by: lobern | September 1, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I really can't understand why people are criticizing Pres. Obama for bringing home our dedicated soldiers. Many of our soldiers (so many so young) lost their lives and are permanently or severely disabled (physically and/or mentally).

I don’t care whether or not you like Pres. Obama why don’t you like and support our men and women in uniform?

Those who keep saying Pres. Obama should be "gracious" to Pres. Bush should remember this war was a lie and men and women lost their lives because of the lie. Graciousness is not deserved.

Posted by: rlj1 | September 1, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I find is laughable that the RepubliCONS want Obama to give Bush credit for the Surge, but they don't want him to give Bush credit for just about DESTROYING the economy, the destruction of the middle class and the 8 million jobs that were lost under the Bush Admin., the unnecessary war, unpaid for tax cuts and so on!! PLEASE SHUT UP!!

Posted by: Angryman | September 1, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I'm trying to remember any of Bush's speeches.....

Posted by: jckdoors | September 1, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

You sir, like your master, have Iraqi and American blood on your hands. Both of you are not fit to shine Mr. Obama's shoes, much less criticize his speech. Were there justice, both of you and the rest of your gang of scoundrels would be behind bars.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | September 1, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

who helped write many of GWB's war speeches, lies and distortions that should be prosecutable

finds a speech about getting many US troops out of harms way...BORING!

This THING is WaPo's big political writer?

Posted by: whistling | September 1, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Third, Obama should be genuinely gracious to his predecessor, George W. Bush – not only because Bush deserves credit for his decision on the surge ...

Uh ... there wouldn't have had to have been a "surge" if Bush hadn't got us stuck in that cesspool in the first place.

This kind of tortuous logic is what you and your buddies used to get us there ... now you want credit for 'good decisions' used to keep from losing?

I suppose this is really some kind of kook-aid flashback.

Posted by: eezmamata | September 1, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama."

Forget the drama. Here are the historical FACTS:

1) First we were told Iraq was complicit in 9/11.

2) When proven a lie, the reason shifted to WMD. Bush himself admitted Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. and then joked about the absence of WMD. Lie #2.

3) Then, running out of reasons, we're told, well, it's because Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was, which begs the question why Don Rumsfeld delivered a set of golden spurs to him along with the very weapons Rumsfeld accused him of using on his own people. Also, inexplicably, despite the horrors of Darfur, we were highly selective about which atrocities to tackle first, and only in rhetorical retrospect after the first two reasons for attacking collapsed. Lie #3.

4) Then we were told we're bringing democracy and freedom to this otherwise insignificant patch of desert halfway around the globe populated by Muslims who we won't even allow to build a mosque in this country. How's all that democracy-building workin' for ya, wink, wink? Lie #4.

5) Paul Wolfowitz told us this war wouldn't cost us one thin dime. Not only does that ignore the precious lives of the thousands dead, the sacrifices of the tens of thousands maimed, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis likewise, but it has cost us a trillion dollars and rising. Lie #5, depraved chicken-hawk insult to our military #1.

History will not look kindly upon the neocons who controlled the Bush administration for reducing our precious military to nothing but mercenaries for Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP.

Chevron didn't name a tanker "USS Condoleeza Rice" for nothing.

Posted by: trippin | September 1, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps you're right, Gerson. What he should have said was that we never should have gone into Iraq, and it was criminal to do so.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 1, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Sure are a lot of forgettable ad-homenin hateful attack on Gerson and rediculous comments from the left...pretty normal useless stuff whenever Gerson writes a column, kind of like drunks in a bar spluttering in their beer.

Actually, as an Iraqi and Afghan war veteran, I agree with Gerson. The speech seemed to take credit where credit was not due, was stingy in its review of what led us to Iraq and what we had accomplished there, and wandered off into domestic policy when it should have concentrated on foreign affairs, the future of the middle east and south asia, the dangers still unfinished in the region and US responsibility for staying in the fight.

I'm sorry, but the weakness in the speech seemed to my mind to reflect the weakness in foreign policy in general in this administration and the weakness in leadership in foreign policy. The speech was indeed vaguely partisan, back-handedly stingy and condescending, weak on analysis and explanations, weak on leadership and unfortunately emminently forgetable.

Posted by: wjc1va | September 1, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Aside from Obama and Biden not being on the same page, must say that Obama really seemed very tepid -- in fact, timid at points -- in his remarks. It was as if he did not feel comfortable saying what he was saying, and wanted very badly to get into the professorial mode.

Are combat operations over you ask? Well, do we still have troops in Iraq? Do we still have Special Operations forces in Iraq?

Will remind you that during the mid 90's Bill Clinton sent US forces to the Balkins for 'ONE YEAR'. IN 2010, we still have forces in the Balkans!

Just got the distinct impression that last night's speech was one to stiffen up his left wing base for November. Nothing more -- nothing less! He simply had DIFFICULTY STICKING TO THE SUBJECT!

November cannot come soon enough!

Posted by: wheeljc | September 1, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Gerson is much to generous to the jug eared muslim. All I heard was a lot of me,me,me.

Posted by: carlbatey | September 1, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson should be happy that President Obama didn't directly hold him and G.W. Bush responsible for the foolish War on Iraq. The foreign policy damage done to the country by that foolish and unnecessary war is immeasurable and ongoing. The fiscal damage done by the first war ever accompanied by a TAX CUT! is also ongoing and severely limits the options available for getting us out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Posted by: jaltman1 | September 1, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Flat boring substances speech. It was like Obama traded places with the teleprompter.

It is obvious that Iraq and Afghanistan are just inconvenient to him and get in the way of his social engineering. His fundamental transformation of America

That is until he started talking about Cap and trade and new spending bills. Then his ears perked up like a chihuahua.

In other news...the stock market is up 250 points on news that the GOP are going to take the house and senate back in November.

Posted by: Straightline | September 1, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

President Obama was speaking about bringing our soldiers home from an unnecessary war, with trillions of dollars wasted, thousands of soldiers who wouldn't be coming home and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed. This was a somber moment not a moment to celebrate. If we wanted a sermon, we could have listened to Beck's speech at his rally again. Besides, Gerson would have complained no matter how Obama delivered his speech.

Posted by: wmwilliams14 | September 1, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Obama could not bring himself to praise Bush for the surge strategy that made last night’s speech possible."

I love how people want so badly to praise the surge without mentioning why we needed the surge in the first place - because we spent years bungling the war.

Posted by: lightgrw | September 1, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Once again: the "surge" was successful because we paid both sides to stop fighting. Sunni "insurgents" (mostly former army men put out of work by Paul Bremer) began receiving $300/month of our taxpayers' dollars and graciously agreed to fight al-Qaeda instead of our soldiers! (We are trying this same strategy in Afghanistan and are paying large sums to various war lords.)

When the U.S. stops pouring our money into the pockets of Iraqi politicians, then we'll see whether or not the "surge" actually worked and they can form a government. They won't bother to work while they're on the dole -- ask any Republican about that.

Posted by: ZenMan1 | September 1, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I wish the Iraqis well. I hope they can overcome the weight that history and culture has placed upon them and forge a genuine long term participatory government. Compared to anything likely to emerge in Afghanistan, this looks like a shiny victory.

Posted by: edbyronadams | September 1, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, I like the opening paragraph, setting up the "historic" nature of last nite's event. But you know, I remember it a bit differently. I think instead of saying, " A little over three years ago, it was possible, even likely, that America would suffer a major military defeat at the center of its interests in the Middle East..." and trying to bask once more in the brilliance of the last-gasp escalation known affectionately by Bush backers as "the surge" it was more like:

" A little over three years ago, the arrogant and wasteful invasion of Irag has become a disaster that no amount of happy talk could hide. Faced with the need to do something, Bush chose to do the one thing that wouldn't require admitting that we had a disaster on our hands--send even more troops. Nothing brilliant in that, it was a CYA move with the lives of soldiers--nothing more. So please, stop talking about the brilliance of the surge.

Posted by: JustTheFacts11 | September 1, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, once again you have amazed me! You don't seem to care how anal you sound, just as long as you are able to critize our President. Oh, btw... as speech writer for Bush, were you responsible for the infamous words "Mission Accomplished"?

Posted by: OHREALLYNOW | September 1, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Guess it was "lame" because there weren't blatant lies to con the American public into supporting a war for oil where only those who are rich, and white get to die so the "Commander in Chief", who even bailed on National Guard service, can strut with a sock-filled flight suit and declare "Mission Accomplished". Hmmm, the speeches you helped write (therefore you liked) contributed to getting people killed. The speech you didn't like, is moving away from the killing. And it's the Republicans (so-called Christians) who say they want a "culture of life". Hmmm, can you say 'hypocrisy'. Or can you say "we want people to breed so we can have cheap labor and cannon fodder"?

Posted by: map529 | September 1, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Oy, the spin is making me dizzy.

Posted by: dgkerns1 | September 1, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

The man whose lies sent 4000 American soldiers to their deaths has the nerve to critique the speech of the man who brought the soldiers home. That is so rich it makes one nauseous.

Posted by: turningfool | September 1, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

so when are you going to join the Army and go over there an show us how it should have been done.

In fact how about you take the entire Enterprise Institute and buddy Billy Kristol with you.

Just think if you too die for our country we will put a little sticker on our cars and wear a rubber band on our wrists.


Posted by: vettesport | September 1, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Gerson's forgettable column.

Posted by: LifeBeforePrinciple | September 1, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Aside from Obama and Biden not being on the same page, must say that Obama really seemed very tepid -- in fact, timid at points -- in his remarks. It was as if he did not feel comfortable saying what he was saying, and wanted very badly to get into the professorial mode.

Are combat operations over you ask? Well, do we still have troops in Iraq? Do we still have Special Operations forces in Iraq?

Will remind you that during the mid 90's Bill Clinton sent US forces to the Balkins for 'ONE YEAR'. IN 2010, we still have forces in the Balkans!

Just got the distinct impression that last night's speech was one to stiffen up his left wing base for November. Nothing more -- nothing less! He simply had DIFFICULTY STICKING TO THE SUBJECT!

November cannot come soon enough!

Posted by: wheeljc
YEAH me too..
There will be fewer Republicants in the Congress and Senate..


Posted by: vettesport | September 1, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

The only thing missing from this drivel of a speech was a shout out to the Ground Zero Iman.

Posted by: elcigaro1 | September 1, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Of course it was a lame speech according to the Lame Hack Speech writer that helped to deceive millions of America people into invading Iraq in the first place.

Gerson would have been more satisfied, if he had of written the speech for President Obama, which would have been full of lies and grandiosity to give him, Bush, Cheney and the rest of the NeoCon rabble rouser's a warm tingly feeling.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | September 1, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Gerson DUDE...
you are toast..


Posted by: vettesport | September 1, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Like clockwork, when Gerson spews, rest assured the opposite is true.

Posted by: dcp26851 | September 1, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Everybody knows of Obama's disdain for the U.S. military. This overshadows anything he has to say on the subject. Same with the economy--his writings that trash our free enterprise system should leave no doubt as to why he is deliberatly destroying it.

Posted by: robtay12003 | September 1, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

jkarlinsky wrote:
"You're not fit to shine Mr. Obama's shoes much less criticize his speech."

You took the words right out of my mouth. Gerson is a clown.

Posted by: luvleep | September 1, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Obama may never be all that gracious to his predecessor but even he doesn't possess the pathological hatred the left has for Bush, as evidenced by the comments here.

Posted by: bbface21 | September 1, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Let's get these Jr. high students out of the White House.

Posted by: robtay12003 | September 1, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

America's military strength relies on our economic power. During WWII Americans were encouraged by the president to keep up productivity, so I don't see why this president shouldn't encourage the same thing.

Posted by: person2 | September 1, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised Obama didn't doze off while he was making the boring speech. I'm surprised Gibbs and Axelrod wasn't there talking in his ear telling him what to say. Notice how Obama sat there with his hands together. He didn't want anyone to interpret his body language. The speech was a bomb. It was just another opportunity for Obama to make another speech telling the American people what he's going to do to us and this country. Notice the pin Obama was wearing. I wonder how long it took for him to remove it once the cameras were turned off. Obama can't help himself. He has to keep poking the American people letting us know he's not going to let returning troops distract him from transforming this country to socialism. This country fought a war in Iraq for seven years. Was the speech Obama gave worthy of a seven year war or an opportunity for Obama to say I won't quit. I'm still going to transform this country to socialism.

Posted by: houstonian | September 1, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Obama's Oval Office address on Iraq again revealed him as a petulant adolescent. After laboring feverishly during his brief stint in the U.S. Senate to engineer an American defeat in Iraq; and, to scuttle President Bush's planned troop surge that has brought a successful conclusion to the Iraqi conflict, Obama now contemptuously attempts to claim credit for the recent U.S. combat forces withdrawal on the BUSH timetable, a timetable that BUSH had negotiated with the Iraqi leadership. The only substantive achievement which has conveniently occurred during the Obama tenure. However, with Obama's demonstrated propensity for mis-management, we should never underestimate his capacity for "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" in BOTH Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama, devoid of the characteristic trait of integrity, is a despicable farce of a man who if he had even a remote sliver of common decency would have given an Oval Office address to the Nation lauding the foresight and determination of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in achieving victory in Iraq. A foresight that Obama and other left-wing defeatists such as Harry Reid and his own VP were totally derelict of. 2010, followed by 2012, have become the most important elections in American history. If left unrestrained, Obama, rather thru sheer incompetence or willful intention, will do irreparable harm to America's economic, and National Security interests. Greg Neubeck

Posted by: gneubeck | September 1, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Bagdad Bob is really Gerson of the Bush Flat Earth Society.

Posted by: KrautKiller | September 1, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I would like to hear Gerson's honest assessment of the 3 1/2 years of the CPA's incredibly inept management of the occupation of Iraq. He is full of dire descriptions of the deteriorating condition that led up to the surge, but strangely silent on the obvious truth that it was Bremer and his Keystone Kops management that directly led to that condition.
I think the President was being kind to Bush, given ALL the available facts on the prosecution of that war.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | September 1, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Apparently a talking points memo has gone out to all professional Republicans (like Gerson) outlining an approach to the withdrawal of all but a mere 50,000 American troops. The idea is to pretend that the history of this war only goes back three years, and ignore how it started and the six previous years. So, in the newly rewritten history, three years ago, George Bush unfortunately found himself leading a nation at war. Naysayers like the bipartisan commission whose work he kept saying he was waiting for said the war was unwinnable. But the brave Bush knew better, engineered The Surge, and brought about a happy ending.

The lies that were told, by Gerson and others to gin up a war against a country that had no WMD's and had not attacked? we're not supposed to remember. The mishandling of the war for five years by the Bushies? never happened--the war began with the Surge. The 4000+ American dead? We never saw the pictures, so it wasn't real. The 100,000+ Iraqi dead? Well, we don't know them, and they're just Iraqis anyway. The Trillions of dollars in treasure wasted, and the economic devastation that has caused? Besides the point. And the end result, which is a chaotic country without a functioning government that is allied with our real enemy in the region, Iran? Let's pretend this is what victory looks like.

Posted by: turningfool | September 1, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I would challenge any one of you to come up with an inspiring speech on a decidedly uninspiring chapter of Americas and world history. What in the world were you expecting. Rah rah, aren't we great and wasn't this a great effort?

At best, we will look back in ten years or so and say Iraq didn't implode after we left. That Iran is not dominating Iraq's internal politics and that the United States is somewhat welcome in Baghdad.

What in the world is the glorious conclusion some of you apparently sense the President should have spoken of last night?

Mission accomplished? We have toppled a dictator, great Bush II already took credit for that.

We have left a democratic government able to defend itself and govern itself. That my friends is in serious doubt. Six months after their elections the legislature has met ONCE. There is no orderly transition. Heck there is no transition at all. And if you ask the average Iraqi there is no government at all.

Iraq is no longer a threat to its neighbors. Yeah you are right, instead of a secular Iraq dominating the region we have a theocratic government led by a crazy man in Iran. Somehow I don't see that as anything other than a push at best.

The war paid for itself? Any of you anti-Obama folks want to step up and explain just how much we have spent there and to what end? Nearly a trillion dollars and the GD country still doesn't have electricity more then a few hours a day.

It will be a beacon for democracy. Yeah Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. are teetering on the brink of democratic initiatives aren't they? Right, not in my lifetime and probably not in my children's lifetimes either.

Stability in the region? Give me a GD break.

I am surprised the President made a speech at all. There is very little to be honored about here. Outside of the heroic actions of our military and some dogged work by State Department types there is very little to be proud of here.

Here's what I would have said:

Wrong war, fought for the wrong reasons, and the wrong way. Despite the ineptitude of the previous administration and its chicken hawks, our military performed brilliantly and has allowed us to depart with some dignity and a sliver of hope for a country that has suffered under the weight of dictatorship (Saddam's fault)and an inadequately planned regime change (er Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush's fault). It remains to be seen how Iraq will fare but we will do the best we can short of combat to help the Iraqis achieve a better future.

Posted by: army164 | September 1, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: gneubeck | September 1, 2010 3:39 PM Obama's Oval Office address on Iraq again revealed him as a petulant adolescent. After laboring feverishly during his brief stint in the U.S. Senate to engineer an American defeat in Iraq; and, to scuttle President Bush's planned troop surge that has brought a successful conclusion to the Iraqi conflict, Obama

Successful conclusion? Man, your bar must be set really, really low. What success do you see there that the rest of us are missing? I guess you define success as not having run up a white flag?

Posted by: army164 | September 1, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

"...But his ambivalence about the Iraq war itself prevented him from specifically praising what those troops helped to accomplish – the removal of a long-standing American enemy and the unprecedented development of a multi-ethnic representative government in the Arab Middle East."

As laudable an achievement as this is, it should be remembered that victory was won entirely through the valor and sacrifice of our brave soldiers, and rather more inspite of Bush than because of him.

Responsible governments do not make the monumental decision to wage war for vague ideological purposes to "remove enemies" or to establish "representative governments"; they go to war only when vital interests are at stake. Yes, it would be nice if we could democratize the entire world at a stroke, but if America were to attack every potential enemy or every non-democractic country on this planet, it would very quickly go bankrupt (we've already dangeously overstreched ourselves on Iraq alone).

Had the case for war been originally presented as crusade to "remove an enemy" and "establish an unprecendented multi-ethnic government in the Middle East", the American people would never have approved. Even the Bush Neo-cons understood this clearly, which is why Cheney & company presented it as necessary pre-emptive action to neutralize Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (which did not exist).

So, yeah, we're lucky that Iraq appears to have turned out okay (thanks to our troops for pulling our bacon out of the fire, yet again). But we can't afford to do that too often.

Posted by: Gladiator2008 | September 1, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

"Six years after Sept. 11, terrorists and insurgents were on the verge of a victory against the United States."

Gerson, if you hope to gain Heaven--which, given your religious training, I assume you do--I would advise that you think long and hard about why the statement you offered, above, is utterly damnable coming from you and the administration you served.

Posted by: abqcleve | September 1, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Ask the Americans out of work if they would have wanted the $3 Trilion spent on this war to be spent on unemployment benefits.

Ask the Americans without health insurance if they would have wanted the $3 Trillion spent on this war used to pay for heart care, stroke care, children with cancer etc.

This war was all about Oil.

If Saddam Hussin was a dictator in Somolia, Burma, or Latin America, he would still be in power. The US CEOs would not have cared. The US Military would not have cared.

Tony Blair would not have cared in England.

Posted by: Robe2 | September 1, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm so tired of seeing nerdy hack fish-wraps like you and Cohen whining about Obama's speech. Why don't you run for President and see how far you idiots get? Then again this is one of the major Iraq apologists, so maybe I should be surprised.

Posted by: jakemehoffer | September 1, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with some of the above posters that having Gershon write about the Iraq War is a huge conflict of interest and makes the paper look foolish.

Posted by: jakemehoffer | September 1, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

One last comment; I'm just utterly floored by the obsequiousness of this pile of garbage offered by the likes of Gerson.

Since he thinks the most important part of what happened last night was grading Obama as if this were a college debate, what grade would he give George W. Bush's pronouncements on this topic? I'm not talking necessarily about "Mission Accomplished;" I'm thinking of the much more damning "Where'd them WMDs go? Not over here. Not over there. Heh heh...." effort.

4,400 dead Americans and counting.

You're damned, Gerson, and you don't even appear to recognize it.

Posted by: abqcleve | September 1, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, one of the WP's right-wing pontificators-in-chief, lectures us about what a president, any president, must do say in an address in such trying times: "First, it should have a Lincolnian purpose."
How frustrating it is to wrap fish on a computer screen!

Posted by: jimsteinberg1 | September 1, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson, here are the memories I will take to my grave: the unnatural sound my brother made when his son's casket was unloaded at our local funeral home, the look on my elderly father's tear-streaked face as he kissed his grandson good-bye, the constantly tired expression of my sister-in-law due to being unable to sleep through the night for the past seven years, and George W. Bush mockingly looking for WMDs under chair cushions while on stage. Instead of my family having to visit my only nephew's grave, your family and Bush's family should be having to visit you in jail. (Aunt of Army Spc. Thomas Day Caughman, KIA @ age 20 in Baghdad)

Posted by: carolcaughman | September 1, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

What can be said? Not even my President Obama can say anything "acceptable" about the War in Iraq. It was a huge mistake from start to finish and wiped us out, financially, morally, and we lost so many, many young people, as well as the Iraquis.

Considering that we just have to get out and end this thing, I thought he said what he could, what he could "acceptably say", and the message I got was, "we need to get out, stop spending money and lives over there, and leave the only thing we accomplished, the "freedom" for the Iraquis to establish whatever they will for themselves.

Of course, everything is broken, not even do they have electricity...but, surely, there are people smart enough to put that together and surely they can be oil producing and get some revenue and economy going? We have stayed too long to put everything we broke back together.

What can Anyone say? It is really foolish sounding for Boehner and others to bring up the "successful surge"....never should have been there in the first place and he can keep reminding us of that, if he so chooses, everytime he repeats this mantra.

Posted by: nana4 | September 1, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Of course, Gerson, if the goal of the speech you would have written is to perpetuate the lies, yours would have been better.

He spent a great deal of that speech honoring the military for "doing everything asked of them", even though what was asked should never have been asked. Second, he told us it pretty much bankrupted us and we needed to stop the hemorrhage. Third, he said, the freedom we won for them was theirs to make of what they will; it is the responsibility of the Iraquis.

Actually, I like the President's speech better. It was REAL.

Posted by: nana4 | September 1, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Lame piece, meandering logic

Posted by: ns3k | September 1, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Mister Gerson least you forget, the ramifications of your neocon contrived invasion of Iraq will forever be the charge of the administration of George Walker Bush. May God have mercy on you souls.

Posted by: whocares666 | September 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I wish that Obama would give a speech on investigating constitutional, civil, and human rights violations here in Indianapolis. He is a constitutional law prof for goodness sake. I have written certified letters and emailed him over the last 1 & 1/2 years and finally put a video on YOUTUBE titled " Obama Conspiracy Letters " to get his attention. No one from the Whitehouse has replied. Maybe I would get a response if my name was Glen Beck.

Posted by: edwinjones | September 1, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

The problem is not that Gerson is a joke. The problem is that Gerson is the same joke over and over and over.

Posted by: jimsteinberg1 | September 1, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

A speechwriter for George W. Bush is not qualified to critique any speech, any time, any place.

Posted by: dottydont | September 1, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Obama reminds me of the spoiled brat from Tom Sawyer, You know the one who cried to aunt Polly about every and anything. He went to the United Nations to cry about Arizona immigration law, Because he did not get his way, he complained to the U.N. and now it's out of our hands , we will have to answer to an outside U.N. world trial. Not to consider our CONSTITUTION, Is he real or what? This matter is a national mater not wasting the time of the U.N.The U.N.s for real problems. Now he has brought attenion to himself and the U.N. will look at him like Hitler. this shows he has NO control of the country, and is out of sink with the people. His agenda is to ruin our great nation and he does not even try to hide it. Marxism at it's best. Hitler step aside we have a new contender. IMPEACHMENT IS THE LEAST WE SHOULD DO. But we can only blame the the young voter's who don't know what he is up to. They have been indoctrinated from a very young age in school's and such. Or brainwashed into supporting him. Read history and it will repeat itself. Million's have died because of people like him.

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | September 1, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Obama is nothing but one big punch line. And as I mentioned in another post -- Why all of the family photos crowded on the table behind him, particularly when the speech purportedly involved such a serious topic as Iraq? And was a speech really necessary, or was it just an opportunity to show off the new decor?

If he appeared wooden during that speech, which he did, it's probably because he's unfamiliar with being in the Oval Office, having spent precious little time there for last two years. When he packs up in two years, maybe he can take that new rug with all of the famous quotes on it with him and have a new quote added to it: "I Won, but now I's done."

Posted by: RedderThanEver | September 1, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

This war was a criminal act and Obama is trying to get us out as gracefully as possible. We could not afford this war in 2003 and we can't afford it now. This is what happens when a crazed religious fanatic with daddy issues gets into the WH surrounded by greedy industrialists.

Posted by: dwdave67 | September 1, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

We won the war. It does not help to crow.

Mr. Gerson needs to listen to the speech again.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | September 1, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Let's see, the speech left out:

1) Axis of Evil
2) Yellowcake
3) Aluminum tubes
4) The Pre-war Al Qaida connection
5) Mission Accomplished
6) The Winds of Democracy Sweeping the ME

There was nothing there for Gerson to love.

Posted by: russellglee | September 1, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

"Obama could not bring himself to praise Bush for the surge strategy that made last night’s speech possible."

Gerson- it wasn't the surge. It was the awakening- cash payments to get the insurgents to disband the militias. Stop repeating the lie.

Posted by: staticvars | September 1, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

This is so unbelievably petty. His speech was great.

Posted by: missxthe3rd | September 2, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse

WaPo no matter how you try Gerson has no credibility. This was printed yesterday and does not deserve another day of print.

Posted by: rlj1 | September 2, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

He is a low class pipsqueak who doesn't know about giving others credit where due.

Obama is still uperating under the illusion that it is all about him, personally.

The President has done nothing but divide the country. Instead of working to bring us together, he blames anyone who upposes his ideas and those whose ideas he doesn't agree with - very juvenile.

Posted by: mlemac | September 2, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Jeremy Scahill reported last night that the "Surge" for which Neocons praise Bush as turning the tide in Iraq, was more like the rooster crowing for making the sun rise in the morning. Scahill took apart the falsehood of the 'surge' by stating the facts: The US had sealed off the Sunni Arabs from the Shiites using concrete, steel and barbed wire thereby making civil war in the capitol impossible, and giving the Shiites a victory. In response the Sunnis had no option but to stop fighting with the US and join them. Muqta Al Sadr considered the announcement of a firm date for US troop withdrawal to be a declaration of peace by the US, and he ordered his militia to stand down, which they did. This is why the fighting subsided: The US, and the warring civil war factions, established an informal, de facto 'truce'.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until the US invaded the country. It is now the second biggest threat to Iraq, the first being Iranian subversion of the political system.

More than 1 Million Iraqis were killed in the Civil War between muslim groups. The US killed at least 100,000 civilians. The Iraq was, and will always be, a permanent scar on American ideals.

President Obama deserves credit for not incorporating these shameful facts about the Bush policy into his speech.

Posted by: LeftGuy | September 2, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Well, we can differ on whether or not it wasn't memorable, but better to be boring that to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. "Mission Accomplished" comes to mind. "I am not a crook," is another.

Posted by: wd1214 | September 2, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

The speech was delivered by a robot. No emotion and connection with the American people or troops, but then the prince has not had any real American experiences, has he? He probably never ever played a game of baseball, football, or anything for that matter. No service to his country, no sacrifices, nada.

Posted by: rustynailx | September 2, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Guns ablazin', yay, rah, rah, the troops are comin' home from the war that helped bankrupt America!!!

Posted by: lafemmejenn | September 2, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

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