Tuesday, August 31, 2010



As President Barack Obama marks the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq with a major address to the nation Tuesday evening, what should be a triumphant, "Yes, I did" moment for him will be overshadowed by continued violence in Baghdad, the bad economy, the war in Afghanistan and the president's fading popularity.

I don't think his problem is the bad economy or Afghanistan or his own poll numbers. I don't think his problem is (left-wing conventional wisdom) that there are still so many troops there, or (right-wing and right-centrist conventional wisdom) that Iraq is still dangerous and unstable.

His problem is that (as Frank Rich has noted for a long time) people tuned out Iraq years ago -- they tuned it out well before the economic crash, and well before the situation in Afghanistan got worse.

Most of the country had tuned out by 2005 and 2006, which meant that even the GOP noise machine aided by the Michael O'Hanlon/Kenneth Pollack crowd couldn't get America excited about Saint Petraeus and the surge in 2007 and 2008.

I do wonder what the reaction would have been if there'd been a complete withdrawal and it had come earlier in Obama's term (or in the early days of the Reid-Pelosi Congress). But, logistically, I don't see how a withdrawal could have taken place fast enough to be emotionally satisfying. And while I think the public may have approved -- not necessarily because they've gone progressive on this issue, but because many of them would be thinking, Rot in hell in your desert shithole, goat-fuckers! We're outta here! -- I also think the right and right-centrist response to a total withdrawal might have occasioned a new round of hippie-bashing. In the Obama administration, the last troops would have left by the time his poll numbers had started to drop, and any violence in Iraq would be added to the list of Democratic crimes.

But ultimately it was just such a miserable experience -- looting, the insurgency, no WMDs, the overall Groundhog Day nature of the conflict, more deaths in the service ranks than there were deaths on 9/11 -- that it's just too painful to engender any positive feelings in most of America. Obama probably shouldn't have scheduled a prime time speech at all. He probably should have just treated the Iraq War as the embarrassment it is and portrayed this transition as an acceptance of responsibility to deal with a mess, and no more than that.

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