Wednesday, September 1, 2010

President Obama’s Leadership Moment

On August 31, President Barack Obama addressed the nation concerning the drawdown plans of U.S. combat forces in Iraq. If history does not repeat, certainly it, as Mark Twain observed, does indeed rhyme. On several occasions in the history of the United States, a sitting president, as commander-in-chief, has had the dubious responsibility to conclude military operations initiated under their predecessor:  Harry Truman and the Second World War in 1945, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt; Dwight Eisenhower and the Korean War in 1953, having defeated Truman’s designate successor Adlai Stevenson; and Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War in 1973, after Lyndon Johnson’s deferment in seeking a second term. Now, President Obama faces the end of the campaign in Iraq, while remaining focused on the mission yet to be concluded there and in Afghanistan, begun under former President George W. Bush.

No consensus exists, and probably never will, concerning the Iraq War. On the right, it was a justified prerequisite to the overall goals of the global “War on Terror.” Perhaps ill-conceived, but essential nonetheless. On the left, it was needless, unwarranted and costly, particularly in the toll in human lives. Obama, sounding astutely presidential, acknowledged this divide that has existed throughout the country since 2003. Yet, with a clear admission acknowledging his predecessor’s intentions and the immediate outcome in spite of unforeseen challenges and setbacks, history is already turning in favor of former President Bush’s legacy over the Iraq War. Obama, much like Nixon in his “Vietnamization” speech at the height of that war’s divisiveness, outlined exactly what needed to be stated:  the United States, having fulfilled combat objectives that must now fall to the Iraqi people, will nonetheless continue an involved commitment to the long-term establishment of self-rule principles sowed by the Bush administration, and for which a new generation of brave men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice.

In South Korea, A Model For Iraq,” by Paul Wolfowitz

A Dicey Moment,” by Michael O’Hanlon

Obama Wrecked Iraq,” by John Bolton

Certainly, there are lessons for President Obama from past administrations that dealt with similar situations. Truman, as newly de facto leader of the free world, helped lay the groundwork in reconciliation toward former enemies Germany and Japan, establishing valuable ties in ensuing decades that still exist today. Eisenhower, despite criticizing the failures and quagmire that had become the Korean War, maintained allegiance to and support for South Korea in its struggle against the North, which continues to this day. On the other hand, Nixon, while adhering to campaign promises to end the Vietnam conflict, abandoned South Vietnam without the same commitment, and North Vietnam quickly overran the South only two years later. All one has to do is substitute North Korea and North Vietnam with Iran – no doubt itching to overrun Iraq, and the Middle East in general, if the U.S. commitment falters in the region.
©2010 Steve Sagarra

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