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What I Want to Hear From President Obama on Iraq: Never Again

4 years ago
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Here are the top two words I want to hear President Obama say in his Oval Office speech about Iraq: Never again.
The White House says that in his Tuesday night address, the president will praise the troops, outline the situation in Iraq and look ahead in Afghanistan. He won't say "Mission Accomplished," but we are clearly at a point of demarcation: The combat mission is over.

I get it. On his list of campaign promises, the president wants to check the box next to "responsibly get us out of Iraq" and quickly move on.
But for me, that's not enough. I want to hear about first principles from him – principles that determine when we go to war. I want to hear about fact-based decision-making – why we go to war. I want to hear about smart planning and contingency planning and choosing competent people to lead us into, and out of, potential quagmires. In short, I want to know I can once again trust my government.
House Minority Leader John Boehner is online with a video criticizing Obama and other Democrats who questioned the 2007 troop surge that helped turn the tide in Iraq. Never mind whether the surge would have succeeded without the tribal revolt against al-Qaeda in Iraq, known as the Sunni "awakening," or vice versa.The issue isn't who supported or opposed the surge. It's who supported or opposed the war in the first place.
The idea of invading Iraq seemed incomprehensible to me. So did the sight of so many Democrats so worried about looking weak on defense in the 2002 midterms (the first elections after the 9/11 attacks) and the 2004 presidential race. They jumped on President Bush's bandwagon with nary a second thought.
OK, that's not quite fair. Many of them had second thoughts. Yet few had the passion of their convictions. Republicans filibuster all the time now, usually on matters infinitely more trivial than life, death and geopolitics. Why didn't Democrats stick together on this and bring the Senate to a standstill? Was the next election that important? More important than forcing the Senate and the nation to confront history, the future, our international relationships and the implications of an unprecedented pre-emptive war?
Obama got it right back in fall 2002, when he was a state senator planning a run for U.S. Senate. He said an Iraq war would be a "dumb" war. He wondered why we didn't simply continue to contain Saddam Hussein until he fell into the dustbin of history. "Even a successful war will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences," he said.
He was right. He should remind us about all those miscalculations. He should reassure us that our leaders will never again inflict on us such colossal and tragic misjudgments. He should also do more than edge away from George W. Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war, as he did in May in a national security strategy document that stressed diplomacy and coalitions.
Why not tell us straight out that pre-emption is no longer U.S. policy? That we will strike only if we're under direct threat, and that we'll be much more careful about collecting and evaluating intelligence about what constitutes such a threat?
There are also, of course, the huge issues raised by the way we ran this war once we were in it: the dearth of planning and regional awareness, the massive level of incompetence, the shocking results of ideology run amok. If you can bear it, read Rajiv Chandresakaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" – or even just an excerpt or a review of it.
Home-schooled 20-somethings with no accounting background chosen to manage Iraq's $13-billion budget. A 24-year-old with no finance experience tasked with re-opening Iraq's stock exchange. Incompetents worrying about smoking prevention while Baghdad burned. Experts pushed out in favor of people whose main qualifications were that they opposed abortion and had voted for Bush.
Please, never again.
Please, never again waste more than $5 billion in taxpayer money on reconstruction projects that are abandoned or incomplete. That's the current total, according to a new Associated Press review of audits by a government watchdog agency, and it is likely to go higher.
Never again give the world cause to add to the many doubts it now has about the United States, sown by the war and summarized with devastating precision by Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post. Our reputation for effectiveness is in question, she writes, as are our abilities to organize a coalition, influence the Middle East, think like a global power and care for our veterans. And she describes herself as a supporter of both the war and the surge.
This is fantasy, I know. Nobody likes to look back. Everyone likes to look forward. It's how elections are won. But I for one hope to hear from the president that lessons have been learned about managing and fighting terrorism and wars; about the best ways to change hearts, minds and societies, even if they are slow and gradual; about the emotional and economic tolls of war without end.

Maybe Obama can't guarantee that an Iraq-style debacle will never happen again. But whether he's around for two more years or six, he can certainly assure us that we won't repeat the mistakes of the past on his watch.

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141 Comments

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jasonhahnfl

MexicoDoug-- I agree with you 100% because if I'm not taking your words out of context (which I may) you're saying anybody who disagrees with America and the way we go about things should be stopped because thier the bad guys.... How do you define the "bad guys" .... If we are attacked we should have adequate proof of whom attacked us ...."Learned a great deal from this war?" witht he leaked documents that confirmed what we already talked about... that we may be supplying the enemy who is fighting us, we also learned thier was never mass weapons of destruction... what defines the bad guys .... BECAUSE IF IT'S TYRANNY why don't we mess with China? Probally due to MAD effect *Mutually assured destruction* as we invade other countries for resources... because they hate us it's ok ? lets invade every country who hates us because they're the bad guys... that makes.... most of the world? OFF TOPIC You know many wars were started by a country attacking itself and accusing others... but that's just a conspiracy theory so I'll stop there

September 02 2010 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jasonhahnfl's comment
BILL

WE don't do anything to China because it is a country that has nothing to do with oil or drugs........ just like how we basically put a band-aid on Somalia where ethnic cleansing is killing millions and piracy is directly affecting all countries people and ships..... it is a country that has nothing to do with oil. And to take from the story "Why not tell us straight out that pre-emption is no longer U.S. policy? That we will strike only if we're under direct threat, and that we'll be much more careful about collecting and evaluating intelligence about what constitutes such a threat?" Then why the hell are we still in Afghanistan..... it does not directly affect us except in the heroin trade..... where when the govt makes drug bust's the money, homes, cars go for govt. use. Cause we sure are not getting closer to Osama if he is even still alive. There are sodtwares and electronics that can take recorded words already and patch them together to say whatever threats they keep saying.... Al-Queda has already done what they wanted.... they laugh as our country spends trillions to fight them as they fight us with weapons we supplied to them during both of the Bush presidencies.... don't forget the iran-contra affair and they have most in our country living in fear...... So get out of Afghanistan as well!!!

September 15 2010 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dxman7

I wonder if the costly new U S Embassy in Iraq -- the largest in the world, according to the media -- will be dismantelled or sold to Iraq.

September 01 2010 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MexicoDoug

Jill, you may be from Ann Arbor, but you write like a Monday Morning quarterback of the Steelers. Your principal point is wrong: Declare America will never be in a pre-emptive war again. Do you think all the bad guys in the world would be emboldened by that ludicrous declaration? Or are you suggesting that those who wish to destroy America (wake up - no matter what you wish, they will exist) will say - hey - America is great, let's can out plans for regional conquest and violations of human rights and arms proliferation and ... and ... and... Or is it just you dotting your i's and t's as you would like to finish this off - without regard for putting Americans in harms way on this "victory". America has obviously learned at great expense from this war. Timne for squeaky wheels like you to stop nagging out pain and make lemonade out of lemons. The greatest asset of America is teamwork born from diversity.

August 31 2010 at 8:32 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
susielorence

"Why not tell us straight out that pre-emption is no longer U.S. policy? That we will strike only if we're under direct threat." Uuh I would consider 9/11 as being under direct threat... wouldn't you?

August 31 2010 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to susielorence's comment
ragan101

Yes susie, I would call 9/11 a direct threat, and that is the reason we are at war with Afghanistan. Many people seem to have forgotten this fact,but many do not seem to realize that Iraq and 9/11 are not connected. I believe we are in a just and proper war with Al Qaeda, they killeda lot of good people and we need to get it together and find Bin Laden and win this war so we can get out of Afghanistan. I can`t say I was sorry that we took out Saddam Hussein, but I am very sorry for what it cost us, Money? No, I don`t care how much money. I don't care as much about the money as I care about the American heroes we have lost.

August 31 2010 at 7:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Steve

Let's bring back the 'draft'. Spread the blood evenly amongst the citizenry. Ages 18-40,male and female, in the pool. no deferments(except medical/physical). Bet there wouldn't be such a 'quickness to war', then People are always brave with someone else's blood- not teir own. Believe me , I've been there.

August 31 2010 at 6:23 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Steve's comment
dc walker

..............if not that, six months of training right after graduation. All citizens should know how to defend themselves and their country, then they can go on to college, get a job or join the military. It would mature a lot of these kids. If they are old enough to vote at 18 they are old enough for some military training.

August 31 2010 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rivers360

Folks. Keep in mind that America's true Iraqi friends (and I do mean Iraqui's who supported our efforts) will now be "in harms way". We leave. Our collective foes take revenge on our Iraqi friends. I could be more graphic but readers should be intelegent enough to know what this means. I wish for better than I fear.

August 31 2010 at 5:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
sendintheclown00

I pray to God that the need for our 50,000 American Soldiers will safely come home. Iraq Goverment want's out just as much as we do but has taken the right to go into any battles with out their permission. The other thing that concerns me is those who's term is up will they beable to find a job? I honestly fear Obama and have no doubt that he will still be in office in 2012.

August 31 2010 at 5:36 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
midnitedew

Obama should blame Bush for Victory in Iraq.

August 31 2010 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
guilatty

This was a thoughtful and honest expression of opinion. Unfortunately, the integrity of this nation is now so compromised it is probably too difficult for the President to say the things Ms. Lawrence wants him to say. We are too fearful for our lives, too cynical of our principles, too lazy to do the reading and attempt to understand. This nation has grown old, tired, selfish, and grouchy right before my baby boomer eyes. As we grew old we have made this nation old. We do not have the courage to say "never again". To do so would be to risk that some terrorist would mistake it as weakness and our population mistake it as naive. We have lost our national courage. We strut and posture like a drunk in a bar but we don't really want to fight and we don't ever want to show real courage and hold out a hand. The national discourse sounds like a bunch of old coots talking in circles, fearful, grouchy, and trying to appear relevant. Fear has gripped us and made us pathetic. So we will send other men's sons to fight our wars, perpetually, while we grouse and refuse to help. We will not do the hard work, will not make decisions based on longterm benefits, we will not become worldly. It's too late. We have grown old.

August 31 2010 at 4:22 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
The Lobster Man

How can a war started under false pretext be a success?

August 31 2010 at 4:15 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

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