Jacob Heilbrunn

Obama's Iraq Fictions

President Obama is bailing out from Iraq. Now that he's withdrawn 100,000 combat troops from Iraq, the country may lapse back into civil war or, by some miracle, create a stable government. America may be turning a page on the war, but it's unclear whether or not Iraq will follow suit. But as Obama indicated last night in his sober and lackluster speech from the Oval Office, Iraq is free to choose its own future.

Obama himself has little choice but to exit. George W. Bush, whose insistence on promoting a freedom crusade in the Middle East created the whole mess, managed to stave off complete disaster by championing the surge, a strategy that Obama is now pursuing in Afghanistan, even as he declared that the economy will be his main focus (which doesn't quite square with his attempt to promote Middle East peace this week, but never mind). Like Obama himself, few Americans ever really cared about Iraq, which is why the GOP's efforts to depict Obama as leaving prematurely will go nowhere. As the Los Angeles Times reports, House minority leader John Boehner declared:

"The hard truth is that Iraq will continue to remain a target for those who hope to destroy freedom and democracy," Boehner said, speaking to the American Legion in Milwaukee. "The people of that nation — and this nation — deserve to know what America is prepared to do if the cause for which our troops sacrificed their lives in Iraq is threatened."

In its efforts to portray Iraq as a success story, however, the White House is now trying to rewrite Obama's previous stance on the war. Here's a wonderful exchange that took place between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Fox News' Gretchen Carlson:

 "I don’t think there’s any doubt, as candidate Obama said, that adding 20,000 men and women into Iraq would improve the security situation,” Gibbs said on Fox News.“Excuse me, back in 2007 he said he was against the surge,” said host Gretchen Carlson.“No, he said he was against the surge. He said there was no doubt that adding 20,000 men and women would improve the security situation, but as we know, our efforts in Iraq weren’t going to be done simply militarily. There had to be a political accommodation,” said Gibbs.

So Obama was against the surge even as he was for it?

Meanwhile, Obama is apparently considering another bailout for the economy he is proclaiming he will rescue. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is considering a fresh round of tax cuts and stimulus spending. Even if the administration were able to get such a bill through Congress, which is highly improbable, what will it do when that approach fails? The stimulus did not stimulate. Perhaps it staved off a new depression, but it has hardly lowered the unemployment rate. America may be in for a long period of decline that neither the GOP nor the Democrats can arrest.