This is an image I saw today in the aftermath of President Obama's second address to the nation from the Oval Office the other night. He spoke of turning the page, announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq.
It always struck me as curious at the time President George W. Bush was putting together his cabinet nominees. I said to anyone who cared at the time that it looked to me like he was preparing to go to war.
There were all the old familiar names from days gone by -- all the old steady hands on deck, seemingly, to shore up the young and inexperienced new president who had no foreign policy experience. He had Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet and others with oodles of war and intelligence experience surrounding him. Maybe it was just the old guard holdovers from his father's administration, but whatever it was I had the unsettled feeling at the time this was a cabinet stacked with military minds. They somehow picked up the label "neoconservatives."
In the end, it just meant they were BIG government, BIG business, BIG military spendthrifts who could not constrain their deficits. It all ended with TARP. And it opened the fiscal and monetary floodgates.
It was almost as if Bush expected trouble. Of course, none of us really saw it coming a few months later, but when 9/11/2001 hit, the war team was in place. Providential, lucky or planned, whichever it was, it was a team prepared for war. The inevitability of their war mission was seemingly destined before its eventuality emerged on that fateful day. The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war was born. If they were suspected of having evil intentions against us, we were justified in going after them.
The word "victory" was tossed about freely without reservation.
Over and over again as the images rolled across the screen we were being told the bombs were not doing harm to the civilian population because of their laser-like precision. Critical infrastructure targets were being systematically taken down one by one. And the reconstruction of that society continues to this day and will for years beyond.
It has been a long, sad chapter in the aftermath of 9/11. It has been said that presidents don't find their foreign policy until the foreign policy finds them. So it was, and so shall it ever be. In an effort to avoid foreign entanglements, it seems, America has a long history of becoming entangled. Wars fuel economies, but they also drain economies.
He almost gave George Bush some props for being a patriot, even though they disagreed about the war. Almost. He called him on the phone the afternoon of the speech. Almost an "attaboy."
He couldn't quite form the words with his lips, "I opposed the surge that brought an end to combat operations, and I was wrong, you guys were right after all."
He almost said it, but the words got caught in his throat. But we learned there are patriots who opposed the war as well as those who conducted it.
There was no acknowledgement by President Obama that America won in Iraq, that we were noble beyond belief in how we conducted ourselves there, but the troops did get the appreciation of their Commander in Chief and a grateful nation. We are now safer than we were, and he was the one in 2007 as a sitting Senator who proclaimed there was no one he had spoken to privately who gave the surge even a prayer of succeeding.
It was just so weird. It kind of resembled presidential leadership, but only almost.
He didn't claim victory for the valiant troops, or for America, or even for Iraq. The word "victory" just got stuck in his craw. He couldn't say it. Instead, just an end of combat operations and an absence of a surrender ceremony. Let's just "turn the page."
Which was kind of like saying we won, but only almost.
He is the Commander in Chief by title, but is he presidential? Almost.