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Friday, September 22, 2023

Obama’s Iraq speech: Prelude to the November showdown

CSMS Magazine Staff Writers

Every speech delivered by a president is political, and every political speech is at best allegorical or at worse tinged with deceits and even outrageous lies. President Barack Obama’s nationally televised speech from the White House Oval Office last week was truly what any political observer could describe as an exercise of deception, duplicity, guile or even fraud. Sounded no better than his predecessors, the speech was deceitful to the people of the United States as well as to the entire world in its characterization of the war in Iraq.

Grandiosely publicized throughout the nation ahead of the address, one could only be overwhelmed with disgust, contempt and deception, especially among those who frenetically voted Obama almost 2 years ago in a desperate hope to finally to see America—the land of the free and the freed slaves—being governed and led to a new direction.

Obama built his political war machine on three key issues: a dire economy, a healthcare reform and a mass antiwar sentiment of the American people. On the economy, the president and his ideologues in Washington are now stumbling badly after few initial successes. His health care initiative was doomed from the start for it lacked the political gut to overcome rightwing opposition to it. So, the president used the speech to glorify the war that he had mistakenly been seen to oppose. His last and only option left to reverse the political trend to his favor.  

Here, Obama’s position is no better than traditional democratic presidents in times of political uncertainties, specifically with regards to domestic policies. Linden Johnson did it in the late sixties when he ordered a massive assault on North Vietnam which left thousands dead—innocent men, women and children—just to deal a preemptive political strike against republican criticisms on his seemingly “shallow” positions in the face of growing North Vietnamese successes on the battle field.

Learning his lesson as a classic traditional politician lost in a change that no one could continue to believe in, Obama seems to have added some modern-day sophistication in his growing militarism to forestall or perhaps to submerge conservative feverish attitude, poising to win big in November. He had to meet his artificial deadline to end the war in Iraq. The United States could ill afford a declared two-pronged war: Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq had to be declared over, while 50 thousand troops were ordered to station permanently in a country where its almost entire population is demanding—rightfully so—the immediate departure of the invading army.

In Afghanistan, Taliban’s growing sophistication in strength and in logistics has long made it impossible for an eventual victory on the ground. The war is not winnable militarily, as every observer would say, and the latest ground offensive currently underway in the Kandahar region—Taliban stronghold—is nothing but stage choreographies in preparation for the domestic fight in November. Thousands of innocent Afghan villagers and dozens of young US soldiers, full of life, will surely perish, for sure, and the deafly cry of the survivors will certainly be lost in the rugged terrain of Kandahar while Mullah Omar and his cronies, well dug-in in sophisticated bunkers deep in the mountains, will remain untouched.              

A deceiving speech

 “Our troops are the steel in our ship of state….And though our nation may be traveling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true,” Obama declared, his face contracted, looking straight at his teleprompter. It is for these infamous words that Obama will definitely be remembered with regards to the war in Iraq. “It was rhetoric befitting a military-ruled banana republic or a fascist state. The military—not the Constitution, not the will of the people or the country’s ostensibly democratic institutions—constitutes the ‘steel’ in the ‘ship of state.’ Presumably, the democratic rights of the people are so much ballast to be cast overboard as needed,” wrote on the WS website.

While the media frenzy continued to be around the final phase of the war in Iraq, a new redeployment was underway. Five thousand members of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, a combat unit, were being sent back into Iraq from Ft. Hood, Texas. All this is happening against the backdrop of several permanent bases being built in Iraq, signaling a definite, open-ended stay there, tacitly endorsing the original agenda behind the war launched by the Bush administration in March of 2003—the imposition of US hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama made a pledge, should he become president, to withdraw all US combat troops from the country within 16 months of taking office. In the end, he merely adopted the time table and plan crafted by the Pentagon and the Bush administration for a partial withdrawal, leaving 50,000 combat troops in place.

Obama felt compelled, under the umbrella of paying tribute to “our troops,” to salvage all the rational and the fundamentals behind the war so many of our young soldiers were sent to fight. “Much has changed,” he declared, apparently since the war started seven-and-a-half years ago. “A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency” in which American troops battled “block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future,” he added.

What a lie! The tired Iraqi people are presented as the prime beneficiaries of American self-sacrifice and heroism, which bestowed upon them the “opportunity to embrace a new destiny.” Let’s be reminded that over one million of Iraqis have lost their lives, more than four million have been driven from their homes according to the United Nations reports. Every institution and essential component of social infrastructure was laid waste by the US invasion. By all practical purposes and intellectual probity, Iraq is a crippled country in which the US military invasion and subsequent occupation have “left a shattered nation of widows, homeless, unemployed and wounded.”

But the most vexing part of the speech was Obama’s tribute to his predecessor, George W. Bush. Despite the fact he timidly acknowledged his disagreement with Bush, the president was adamant in his insistence that he had “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” This is a testimony that “there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation of our servicemen and women.”

Bush launched a war that was illegal under international law. He and the other leading figures in his administration—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice—dragged the American people into an unprovoked war crime which left nearly 4,500 lost their lives in the aggression launched by the Bush administration, with 35,000 more wounded. Hundreds of thousands have suffered psychological trauma.

Neoconservatives applauded

Of course, it was no surprise the favorable reaction to the speech by the neocons, to the exception of Sarah Palin, the evermore jusqu’auboutiste politician, the ultimate leader of the Tea party movement who would oppose whatever Obama has to say. Palin accused Obama of taking credit for something he had opposed: the troop surge. To Palin and her lieutenants, it was George Bush’s troop surge that made it possible for Obama to now claim victory. “It is important to remember the facts. [Obama] opposed the surge,” Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page. She went on to write that “he predicted it would fail. He said it would make things worse even after it dramatically improved the situation.”

But much of the neoconservative brain trust that helped craft former President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy was more or less pleased. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, one of the leading voices in favor of the invasion prior to the war, credited Obama for going “as far as an anti-Iraq war president could go in praising the war effort….Not a bad tribute to the troops and not a bad statement of the importance and indispensability of hard power,” Kristol wrote in a post on his conservative magazine’s blog. “Not a bad speech by the president.”

Kristol chided Obama for his past opposition to the war, writing that Obama “opposed the war in Iraq. He still thinks it was a mistake.” But Kristol had to shed a little doubt on the speech. “It’s therefore unrealistic for supporters of the war to expect the president to give the speech John McCain would have given, or to expect President Obama to put the war in the context we would put it in. He simply doesn’t believe the war in Iraq was a necessary part of a broader effort to fight terror, to change the Middle East.”

It was reported that neither Bush nor Former Vice President Dick Cheney commented on the speech, nor did they offer any response to the day marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Some of the Bush administration’s former aides, however, echoed Kristol in not wholly agreeing with the president’s stance but in offering praise for Obama’s tone.

Obama’s “style is one that doesn’t celebrate,” noted former Bush administration official Dan Senor in an interview with POLITICO. “But I think for a president who is essentially an anti-war president … his tone was fine,” said Senor, who was the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the early years of the Iraq war.

“A lot remains to be seen about the future of Iraq, and what is important now, to use the word win, is [to] make sure we win the peace,” Fleischer said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Now that we have withdrawn the combat forces, with a few minor exceptions, will we be able to succeed so a stable Iraqi government does grow and the lives lost were not squandered and Iraq doesn’t return to its old ways and have a different Arab Iraq in the Middle East.”

It’s a travesty that Obama can only find support from the cocoons of those who would applaud his downfall in whatever means necessary, even if it were to happen before his term expires in 2 years. While the speech confirms Obama’s volte face, his political coup against his liberal supporters, it had nonetheless reached its intended target. The neocons have responded. Wasn’t it what the president wanted?

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