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It’s not over ’til it’s over: Reviewing Obama’s Iraq speech September 1, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Cutler in Analysis.
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Photo credit: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama addressed the nation last night from the Oval Office to announce the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is the end of official combat, though certainly not the end of the U.S. presence in the country with 50,000 US troops staying until the drawdown is complete next year.  These transitional troops will advise Iraqi security forces and provide other protection and support to Iraqis. Simultaneously, a U.S. civilian force will focus on more long-term efforts such as good governance and regional diplomacy.

The President has ordered the deployment of more troops in Afghanistan in a move similar to the surge in Iraq that will be for a limited time only “to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.” He stated that the withdrawing of troops in Iraq affords the U.S. the “resources necessary to go on offense” in Afghanistan, perhaps to satisfy rampant concern over the cost of continued the Afghan war.

The exact details of Operation New Dawn, which Vice-President Biden and Defense Secretary Gates officially commenced in Iraq this morning, remain to be clarified. Considering that the Afghan and Iraqi wars have cost the U.S. over a trillion dollars, the speech did little to explain how the new approach will be funded and operated—discussion of how the transition troops will actually operate how the augmented civilian and diplomatic capacity will be funded remained vague at best.

For example, back in March, DoD’s FY 2011 budget request projected a mere $50 billion per year anticipated cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for 2012 on, which would have meant a tremendous 69% reduction in spending for our operations in both wars—highly doubtful for myriad reasons. The President’s speech last night thus stokes more questions regarding the bottom line for continued costs than it answered.

So what are people saying about the speech?

Well, Barak Hoffman over at Georgetown called the speech clear as mud. Politico’s Roger Simon seems to agree, writing that the speech failed to answer key questions and clarified very little for the American people regarding the exact nature of the new operation.

Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government writer Peter Feaver picked up on the President’s careful wording that Operation Iraqi Freedom is over—but not necessarily successful.

An editorial in The New York Times echoed and agreed with this point, saying that the “there was no victory to declare last night, and the President was right not to try.”

The text of the speech can be accessed here.

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