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Obama speech: Official end to U.S. combat in Iraq, but so many But's

September 1, 2010 |  2:04 am

Democrat president Barack Obama from outside seen giving an Oval Office address on Iraq 8-31-10

Barack Obama gives weird Oval Office addresses.

After becoming the first president ever not to address fellow citizens from that strangely clear desk during his first year in office, the Democrat gave his second Oval Office speech in 11 weeks Tuesday night to mark the scheduled end of U.S. combat ops in Iraq after seven years and 4,421 American deaths.

Obama had to mark the occasion because his entire Democratic political personna was based on opposition to the Iraq war. (Also closing Guantanamo; but that's another story.) And there are midterm elections looming Nov. 2 with polls predicting a stateside surge in Republican troops.

But Obama couldn't celebrate the combatless occasion because, truth be told, there's still a lot of killing to be done over there, even with American forces reduced to 50,000 from a peak of 176,000. Nevermind President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" gaffe, Obama has his own embarrassing "Recovery Summer" scar still unhealed.

The first-term president learned a few things from his previous....

...major statements. On June 15, talking about the oil spill calamity, his hands fidgeted distractingly. This time, epoxied together. Stiff back. Serious demeanor. Almost scrawny. A lecturer, not a father figure. There will be a midterm exam.

Last December, when the anti-surge president announced his own second troop surge into Afghanistan, he referred to himself 44 times during those 4,582 words explaining why more soldiers must fight but strangely omitting the one word that historically makes the sacrifices worthwhile: "victory."

This time, only 2,572 words and 13 I's. "Victory" he uttered once -- but in an offhand, last-minute Delphic way: "We must earn victory through the success of our partners." (Full text, as usual, available here.)

American presidents speak from the Oval Office for momentous events: The Russians are putting missiles in Cuba and that's gotta stop (Kennedy, 1962). I will not seek and will not accept the re-nomination  of my party (Johnson, 1968). I am resigning as president (Nixon, 1974). The Challenger loss leaves us all looking to the heavens for consolation (Reagan, 1986). As I speak, American military forces are kicking ass in some foreign place (too numerous to mention).

You had a sense that Tuesday was momentous more to Obama and his Chicago crowd than anyone trying to follow him.

But since the former Illinois state senator opposed the Iraq war and opposed the 2007 troop surge that enabled this withdrawal that doesn't actually end the war anyway, and has made the even longer Afghan conflict his own now with three commanders and two surges in 19 months, Obama could do none of that clearcut message delivery in his 18 earnest minutes of Teleprompter reading. And, anyway, more Americans care urgently about their jobs and the economy than that dismal dimming war.

The result was the Real Good Talker didn't talk real good. He tried to touch way too many bases. And missed most. Much the same occurred in his June Oval Office address when the nation wanted to know How he was going to stop its worst environmental calamity and, instead, got a pitch for green energy and more windmills. Does his 747 ever touch ground?

Because this is a campaign year, the professional politician tried to do everything Tuesday. And, as a result, ended up doing nothing. Leaving even HuffingtonPost and The Nation feeling strangely dissatisfied. Internet Scofflaw had an even terser take -- and funny.

Here are a few things Obama touched on: Stormy times these past several years. Too much uncertainty. Wars distract us from more important stuff at home. Our service men and women "completed every mission they were given." The American combat mission in Iraq is over. "That was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office."Democrat president Barack Obama gives Iraq speech from Oval Office 8-31-10

He called President Bush. They disagreed from the war's outset. No one doubts Bush's love of troops, country and his commitment to national security.

Yes, terrorist attacks continue in Iraq. And special forces with abundant guns are staying behind. But Iraqis are in the lead.

They had a good national election there. But they still can't form a government.

But Joe Biden is hanging around to help. But I urge them to agree urgently. But combat soldiers are leaving. But more diplomats and civilians are pouring in.

Now, about Afghanistan: al-Qaeda still plots against us. But we "are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum."

I have dispatched additional troops. But "these forces will be in place for a limited time." But "our support for Afghanistan will endure." But troop withdrawals start next year. But they'll be based on conditions. But make no mistake we are out of there soon.

New Mideast peace talks start here Wednesday. Billions of young people around the world want to leave poverty. They need education.

Our strength and influence overseas is based on domestic prosperity. Haven't done enough about that. We've borrowed too much money, often from foreigners. Delayed decisions. But spent too much. So deficits too big. "And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class."

Long-term competitiveness at risk. Most urgent task = restore the economy. Also, put millions to work. Also, reform education everywhere. Also, end dependence on foreign oil. Also, honor commitments to veterans. New GI Bill. Need the same grit at home as troops show. (McChrystal aside.)

"Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the predawn darkness, better days lie ahead." God bless you, etc.

But, say what?

(UPDATE: Here's a worthy read, Jennifer Rubin's take on Maureen Dowd's take on the Obama Oval Office makeover during tough times for everyone else.)

Related Items:

Iraq is one of Obama's 'great achievements' -- Joe Biden

President Obama's Oval Office speech on Iraq - text

GOP's John Boehner talks of Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy - text

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Susan Walsh / Associated Press; Jim Young / Reuters.