Everyone is justifiably still talking about Barack Obama's incredible speech on race yesterday, which only the fringe right failed to admit was rather extraordinary. But I was equally impressed by his outstanding speech today on Iraq and national security. I'm certainly not going to make a habit of reprinting every speech made, or focus on domestic politics more than occasionally, but this speech does a better job of framing the issues I care about than almost any other speech I've yet seen from any candidate. I was especially impressed with his ability to articulate the tension between tactics and strategy in Iraq, and the wider opportunity costs of the current strategy:
while we have a General who has used improved tactics to reduce violence, we still have the wrong strategy. As General Petraeus has himself acknowledged, the Iraqis are not achieving the political progress needed to end their civil war.... When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely. Here is the truth: fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting in a war without end will not make the American people safer.
He argues that the troop withdrawal and changed political strategy
will finally put pressure on Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future. Because we’ve learned that when we tell Iraq’s leaders that we’ll stay as long as it takes, they take as long as they want. We need to send a different message. We will help Iraq reach a meaningful accord on national reconciliation. We will engage with every country in the region – and the UN – to support the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq. And we will launch a major humanitarian initiative to support Iraq’s refugees and people. But Iraqis must take responsibility for their country. It is precisely this kind of approach – an approach that puts the onus on the Iraqis, and that relies on more than just military power – that is needed to stabilize Iraq.
Obviously,I agree. There's a lot more in the speech, which places Iraq in a wider regional and global framework and talks seriously about the wider strategic perspective. Instead, Obama gets the big things right, and easily counters Clinton's attacks while very effectively equating them with the Bush-McCain playbook. Great stuff. It's fascinating to compare this wide-ranging speech with Hillary Clinton's laundry list of detail and endless name- checking lots of very important former officials in her own big Iraq speech yesterday. Joe Klein nailed that one beautifully: "Hillary Clinton's Iraq speech today wasn't very noteworthy--mostly a regurgitation of old ideas and
old rhetoric--except for her slagging of former Obama advisor Samantha
Power." That's the difference between them.