Obama's Iraq speech: First reactions

The president declared an end to combat in Iraq, saying it was time to focus on problems at home. Were the commentators impressed?

Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office Tuesday night.
(Image credit: YouTube)

President Obama made his second primetime Oval Office address to the nation on Tuesday night, declaring an end to America's "combat mission" in Iraq. He said it is "time to turn the page" and focus on domestic problems, which have been "shortchanged" in a period marked by heavy spending in Iraq. He also mentioned his phone call earlier in the day to former President George W. Bush, with whom he very publicly disagreed over the decision to invade Iraq. (Watch Obama's announcement.) Here's a sampling of the early reactions from commentators:

Not bad, for an "anti–Iraq war president": Obama's speech "was on the whole commendable, and even at times impressive," says William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. It's not "the speech John McCain would have given," but it was the best I and "my fellow hawks" could reasonably hope for from a president who opposed the Iraq war.

Where was the focus? The speech was "a strange muddle," with no "bottom line" or "clear road" to what happens next in Iraq, says Fred Kaplan in Slate. All the parts of the speech — Iraq, Afghanistan, jobs, the economy — "are worth saying," but what about them merited the "high profile" of an Oval Office address?

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The speech was as "grim" as the war: "It was shocking how little awe there was" in Obama's "grim little speech," says Roger Simon in Politico. He didn't even address the big questions: "Did it make America safer, and was it really worth it?" Why? "Because he could not." It didn't, it wasn't, and he shouldn't have "let President Bush off the hook" for starting it.

He forgot to apologize to Bush: Remember, Obama called this a "dumb war" in 2002, and has stood in its way ever since, says Michelle Malkin in her blog. So what he should have done, but didn't, is "apologize for his past political hackery and cynical attacks on those in the Bush administration who supported the troop surge that made his speech tonight possible."

"Politicos will be universally dissatisfied" with Obama's "good" speech, says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. "Liberals will say he gave George W. Bush too much credit; conservatives, not enough," but I thought he hit the right balance. And he did a great job drawing a "straight line" between the "vast monetary cost" of the war and the "economic slough" back home.

An audacious gambit to rewrite history: "Obama speech tonite may make u dig out ur old Orwell books so rewritten history can be deciphered," says Sarah Palin, on Twitter, "depending on who gets credit 4 Iraq surge."

We've come a long way since Vietnam: "There was no victory to declare last night, and Mr. Obama was right not to try," says The New York Times in an editorial. But his eloquent "thank you" to the troops was a welcome reminder of "the distance America has come since Vietnam" — and that's "one of the few rays of light" in this otherwise "tragic, pointless war."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.