The president said nothing wrong or stupid in his broadcast last night, but like many people I am wondering why anybody in the White House thought it was good idea to do it. The last thing Obama was going to say was, “mission accomplished”. His message had to be a lot more complicated than that, and was bound to raise at least as many questions as it answered. Was the country pressing for a prime-time statement from the Oval Office to mark the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and the retention there, for the time being, of 50,000 non-combat forces? It was not. The idea that this is a turning-point is regarded with some scepticism, and Obama was not going to be able to allay that feeling. So what, exactly, was to be gained?
The fifty thousand U.S. troops still in Iraq are there to advise and assist. But what happens if Iraqis cannot deal successfully with the continuing threat posed by terrorists, their own sectarian divides, and the meddling of neighbors? What is the continuing U.S. stake in Iraq, and what is the United States prepared to do on its behalf?
What is more, the president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period.