As many of you know, I love and admire President Barack Obama. What he has accomplished is truly remarkable. Not only was he elected president but he has also taken over the helm at truly rocky times. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With escalating tensions in the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, the world is looking to us for leadership. Africa, South America and South Asia are in desperate poverty. Our polar ice caps are melting. Here at home, we’re in the middle of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression and our political atmosphere is truly toxic. Through all of this, our president has stood tall and managed to pull together coalitions to get significant legislation passed in Congress. Yet I have this uneasy feeling, nausea really, over Iraq.
Before we unwisely invaded Iraq, there was a balance of power in the Middle East. Iraq and Iran hate each other. They would truly like to annihilate each other but after fighting a fruitless war which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and after which there is no clear victor, they were content to scowl angrily at each other. The third point in the Middle East’s triangle was Israel. So when we swooped in and took out Saddam Hussein, we tipped the balance of power. It is really unclear how this will play out in the long run, but for now Iran seems to be the big winner.
Last week President Obama addressed the nation. He told us that combat operations in Iraq had been completed. Our troops were coming home. Cool. Let’s break out the champagne. Then, before I was able to get to the refrigerator, our president stated, “a transitional force of US troops remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, supporting Iraqi troops and targeted counterterrorism missions and protecting our civilians.” What? Then, just for a moment, our president seemed to transform into President George W. Bush and talked about extremists, terrorist bombings and sectarian strife. We’re leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to do the exact same job they’ve been doing for the last three years. I was flabbergasted. I began to feel like Fred Sanford, from Sanford and Son, and I grabbed my chest.
As soon as President Barack Obama ended his speech with what I thought was an overly gracious tip of the hat to President George W. Bush, the Republicans, instead of being grateful, went on the attack. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner were two of the first to step up and criticize the president for not praising the surge and George W. Bush. Did we just enter the Twilight Zone? Did the conservatives say that the surge worked? To review, the surge had six key elements. These elements were unveiled to the American public by President George W. Bush, himself. Two of the six elements were to create space for political progress and diversify political and economic efforts. There has been no political progress over the last three years. None. Elections were held. No government was formed. The Sunnis, Shiites and the Kurdish Iraqis in the north continue to argue like school children. The surge did help decrease the sectarian violence but that was only one part of the plan (one out of six is an F, isn’t it?) Iraqis were supposed to form a functional government. That has not happened. We were supposed to create the space for Iraqis to lead. This simply hasn’t happened.
With Republicans giving each other high fives and congratulating themselves on the surge, I feel uneasy. With President Obama slipping into a George W. Bush-type trance and telling us that combat missions have ended when they really haven’t, I feel uneasy. This may be my whole problem with the Middle East — my feeling of uncertainty. I’m not sure it’s clear who our friends are (with the exception of Israel) and I’m not sure who our enemies are. We are embracing the Iraqi people as our friends but does that include all of the Iraqi people, including the Sunnis? I just feel that nobody has any good answers.