Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 10:17 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 10:17 | SYDNEY

Obama: One war down, one to go


Sam Roggeveen


2 September 2010 17:00

It's interesting to read President Obama's remarks about the end of combat operations in Iraq in light of Peter Beinart's speech to the Lowy Institute last week. Beinart argued that the central mission of Obama's presidency is economic — to make America 'solvent' again. To do that, he has to get his country out of two expensive wars while trying to avoid looking wimpish to his Republican opponents.

There's enough in Obama's remarks to reinforce Beinart's thesis:

...our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class. Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.

You can also detect it in the language Obama uses about Afghanistan:

We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders -- and hundreds of al Qaeda’s extremist allies -- have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I’ve ordered the deployment of additional troops who -- under the command of General David Petraeus -- are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we can’t do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves.

Notice that the word 'defeat' is only applied to al Qaeda. When it comes to the Taliban, the American mission is just to 'break its momentum'. That's immediately followed by a clear signal that the US wants to hand over to the locals. 

But as Beinart said, Obama hasn't yet laid the rhetorical groundwork for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. To do that, he needs to recast the terrorist threat, so that Americans are convinced it is safe to pull out. There's no hint of that in this speech.

Image courtesy of the White House.