[T]he American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country…
Our combat mission in ending but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not. Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain…
We have met our responsibilities. Now it’s time to turn the page. As we do so, I’m mindful that the Iraqi war has been a contentious issue at home. Here too, it’s time to turn the page.
~Barack Obama in a speech delivered August 31, 2010.
This war [in Iraq] was unwise, which is why I opposed it… that is why I will bring it to an end… I will bring this war to an end.
~Barack Obama in a speech delivered March 7, 2008.
Yesterday evening, Barack Obama and the American government formally ended Operation Iraqi Freedom and have claimed that Obama faithfully followed through on his campaign pledge to end the war in Iraq. You might have missed this — it didn’t attract a lot of media attention and it was presented in a fairly low-key manner (compare both points to the attention and production work that went into George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech delivered May 1, 2003, and you’ll see what I’m talking about). However, as far as I can tell, this lack of attention an interest is fine with Obama. It’s all a part of putting these things behind us and looking ahead to the future.
This forgetting and moving on is important because we might remember that the Iraq war is nowhere near to be over. This is why Obama is careful to never declare an end to the war. Instead, he repeatedly states that the “combat mission” is over, “combat brigades” have been removed and Operation Iraqi Freedom is now ended. What he did not say is that Operation New Dawn has now started and that 50,000 of the troops still in Iraq have simply been reclassified — instead of being called “combat troops” that are now called “advise-and-assist brigades” (clever, right?). Thus, although Obama wants us to “turn the page” on American combat in Iraq, the truth is that nothing is really being changed — as he also stated: “violence will not end with [the end of] our combat mission” (of course, he was referring to the violence of foreign “extremists” and “terrorists” but the statement applies just as much to what we can expect from Operation New Dawn).
This is also why Obama reframed his campaign pledges in his speech last night. When campaigning for the presidency he spoke of “ending the war,” but as president he speaks of “ending combat missions” and claims that this is a fulfillment of his original commitment. Thus, he studiously avoids making any sort of “the war is over, mission accomplished” statement. The one and only time he uses that sort of language in the speech last night is in an open-ended statement: “Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest–it’s in our own”. Here, Obama is actually making it known that the war is still happening, despite the alleged fulfillment of his promises.
However, what I find interesting about all this is the observation that no one really seems to give a shit about this anyway. Unlike the outcry that came in response to Bush’s “Mission Accomplished,” there is no rush to explore if what Obama is saying is true or to test him in the same way Bush was tested (same applies to Obama’s equally false declaration of the end of the oil spill crisis in the Gulf this year, especially when compared to how reporting on Katrina impacted the Bush administration).* As far as I can tell, this lack of interest could be motivated by a few things. First, there’s a good chance that most people don’t really care about the war in Iraq in any sort of meaningful way. Second, there’s the possibility that nobody actually believes what Obama is saying (including Obama himself). Instead, everybody has resigned themselves to the belief that the war will continue endlessly, regardless of what anybody says. Third, there’s also the chance that people are now so confused by the ever-changing rhetoric employed over the last ten years that they don’t know if they are or are not “at war,” let alone knowing what being “at war” does and does not mean.
Regardless, members of all three of these possible parties are likely more than happy to obey Obama and turn the page and, while doing so, carefully rewrite that which came before.
*Lest this makes me sound like a Bush sympathizer, I should clarify that I am not. I just think Obama and Bush are two sides of the same coin.