The Journal took a different approach in its story, “Obama Marks End of Iraq War to Focus on Economy,” branching out from Obama’s speech to focus less on the events of the past seven years than on the politics of the speech itself. Readers get Republican comment on the war-ending speech before they learn just how many people died and were wounded during the war’s prosecution.
Republicans marked the occasion by castigating those Democrats, including Mr. Obama, who had opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and had called for a much earlier end to the war.
“It makes it easier to talk about fulfilling a campaign promise to wind down our operations in Iraq when the previous administration signs the security agreement with Iraq to end our overall presence there,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. “It sure makes things easier when you reject your own campaign rhetoric about how the surge…shouldn’t happen and wouldn’t work.”
…Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R, Ohio), said the president’s pivot to domestic policy showed no clear plan to revive the economy beyond a call to “unleash innovation” and “strengthen our middle class.”
The Journal then notes the impact on Iraqi domestic politics:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki—eager for a second term but facing bitter opposition from former Shiite Muslim allies and other political factions after an inconclusive election in March—seized on the milestone to bolster his standing. “Iraq today is sovereign and independent, controlling its fate and everything related to its present and future,” he said. “[O]ur heroic forces and security apparatuses will have the lead role in strengthening security and defending the country.”
There’s even an interactive showing how the words presidents have used to talk about the war have changed since 2003.
All of that is interesting, informing stuff. And perhaps the Journal is wise to play the speech for what it is: another round of politicking. But whether it’s a symbolic end to the war, an actual end, or just the latest chapter, it’s important to put this speech in context, and remind readers of how we came to the moment at which it was given last night.
For that kind of coverage, the Post out-batted its competitors today with a rigorous, fact-driven, and damning report. It nary misses nary a beat, interweaving history with Obama’s words in blunt and affecting prose.
In his speech, the president sought to unshackle the nation from a military invasion, begun by his predecessor, that was supposed to swiftly depose a dictator, seize hidden weapons of mass destruction and leave behind a democratic government.
Instead, it dragged on for more than seven years as U.S. troops battled a growing insurgency. The war became a recruiting tool and training ground for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Obama noted the “huge price” the United States paid during the long, wrenching conflict. Over the course of the war, 1.5 million troops served in Iraq, many of them returning for multiple tours. More than 4,400 died, and 32,000 were wounded.
Reporter Anne E. Kornblut then revisits the beginning of the war and its place in Obama’s rise to the office from which he spoke last night.
It was the contested grounds for the 2003 invasion that made it the most polarizing conflict since Vietnam. The Bush administration insisted that Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, had stockpiled a lethal arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and that he posed a threat to the United States and its allies. But those claims were based on questionable intelligence, and no such weapons were ever found. The bitter national argument over whether Bush had misled the country into war divided Americans and strained the country’s relationship with the world - ultimately setting the stage for Obama to ascend to the presidency.
Kornblut’s report is, to my mind at least, the best of this morning’s coverage. And it offers a much more damning exposé of the political nature of the speech than is offered by a survey of Republican responses. It looks grimly to the future as well:
The speech came at a seemingly arbitrary moment, on a deadline set by Obama himself and unrelated to any progress on the ground in Iraq, where a government has not been formed and deadly violence shatters daily life. While the war removed a dictator, it left civil society in tatters; electricity is still sporadic, even in Baghdad.