Bill Kristol (in the Washington Post) on the two words that Obama can’t bring himself to say about Iraq — We Won:
President Obama says he is “not interested in re-litigating the past.” Well, I am — at least to this extent: Would it have been too much for the president of the United States to have acknowledged and paid tribute to a truly remarkable recent American achievement — turning around the war in Iraq and putting that war on course to a successful outcome?
Here’s what Obama did say about Iraq:
As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as president. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.
That’s it: “This war is ending.” But it’s ending in a certain way — with success. It could have ended with failure. Success rather than failure in Iraq has made a big difference elsewhere in the Middle East — including in Iran. Of course Obama didn’t allude to the possibility — let alone embrace the prospect — of regime change in Iran. But that possibility exists, and it exists in part because of the relative success of freedom and democracy in Shia-governed Iraq next door.
Yet Obama can’t bring himself to say that we prevailed in Iraq. He did say that “tonight, all of our men and women in uniform — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support.” But he won’t say that we are grateful for their victory in a war where defeat would have been disastrous.
As Bill McGurn, one of the former president’s speechwriters wrote in January of 2009 in the Wall Street Journal:
In a few hours, George W. Bush will walk out of the Oval Office for the last time as president. As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.
Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.
One year later, McGurn’s take is still looking spot-on.