Obama's gamble



Last night, before his address on Iraq, pundits generally agreed that this was going to be a difficult speech for President Obama to make. In the first place, the war there wasn't really "won." What's more, Obama had been opposed to the war in the first place; run against it as a candidate; and been against the so-called Surge that many believe set the table for withdrawing combat troops.

But as Obama delivered his text, an even greater issue became apparent. Obama took pains not to any way refer to how we got into the Iraq war in the first place, or any of the cascade of consequences for this country that followed from President Bush's policy of Preemptive War. A war, that is, that we started under false pretenses; that has severely compromised our standing in the world; greatly overstressed our military capacity; inflamed an already hostile region and led to the deaths of thousands of American troops and at least 100,000 Iraqis.

Obama did refer to the economic straits that the war has played a major part in putting us in. It has been funded from the start with borrowed money, off the books, and thus blown a hole in the country's finances, compromising our ability to see to pressing needs here at home.

But, as has been his way from the point at which he took office, Obama has steered away from calling the Bush Administration to account for for this long-running fiasco. His preference has been to turn the proverbial page, move on, look to the future.

So there has been no talk of calling members of the previous administration to account for what happened in Iraq. No attempt to come to terms with this extraordinary and infamous episode in American history.

Obama, doubtless, believes that his political agenda would be stopped in its tracks were he to wade into the the mess that is the story of this country's involvement with Iraq. Perhaps he is right to want to turn away from this scene and get on with trying to manage the crises that have, in many ways, proceeded from this wreck.

But this could also prove to be his biggest gamble, even his undoing. By refusing to come to grips with the moral dimensions of this debacle, he is is allowing the country — and, in particular, those who are most opposed to him — to walk away from their responsibility for what has happened. Worse, he has opened the door to revisionist histories that, should they be repeated often enough, could cloud our understanding of events for years to come.

Under these circumstances, there is no reason to think this country won't fight another war like the one Iraq.


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