The Washington Post asked foreign policy experts for their impressions of President Obama’s speech about Iraq at Camp Lejeune on Friday, February 27, 2009. Below is the contribution from Hudson Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for National Security Strategies Douglas J. Feith. (Page A13)
President Obama highlighted U.S. accomplishments in Iraq: doing away with Saddam Hussein’s regime, helping establish a sovereign government, dealing al-Qaeda in Iraq “a serious blow,” and lifting Iraq out of “tyranny and terror.” His plan for ending the war is designed to preserve the value of these accomplishments. Rightly, his emphasis is on securing U.S. success, not cutting losses.
His speech effectively repudiated the extreme antiwar rhetoric of recent years. There was no mention of Iraq as a disaster, a fraud or even a blunder. He presumably still thinks the war should not have been fought, but Obama chose not to make this point, accentuating the positive instead.
In setting aside the 16-month exit timetable that he had promised while running for the White House, and on other issues, Obama unapologetically demonstrates that, while campaigners can be simplistic and rigid, responsible officials grapple with complexities and require flexibility. So we should expect that, if necessary at the time, he will extend his new 18-month timetable for ending the U.S. combat mission. He has built substantial flexibility into his new plan: First, he intends to keep a U.S. force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq beyond August 2010. And second, he says that U.S. forces will continue to conduct “targeted counter-terrorism missions” even after our “combat mission” ends.
This Iraq speech was cautious. It neither represents nor promises ultimate victory in Iraq. But it does flatly contradict those war critics who damned the U.S. effort as an irredeemable failure. It represents the defeat of the defeatists.