Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Gates Near Tears

The most moving moment in ending America's combat mission in Iraq comes not from the President's touch-all-the-bases Oval Office speech but the stifled tears of a man who helped George W. Bush prosecute the war.

At an American Legion convention yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates choked up as he said: "Today, at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 4,427 American service members have died in Iraq, 3,502 of them killed in action; 34,265 have been wounded or injured. We must never forget."

Gates' emotion is a fitting response to the misbegotten invasion of a country that neither possessed weapons of mass destruction nor harbored 9/11 terrorists, as its justifiers--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and, yes, Colin Powell--claimed in selling it to the American people.

Yet, in the Oval Office, Barack Obama was more circumspect:

"From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.

"These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst those shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve."

The President's cautious rhetoric is understandable, but his listless attempt to "turn the page" and link Iraq to the current operations in Afghanistan and even the struggling economy project not the passion of the man who promised Change but an embattled politician hitting talking points during an election year that threatens to disembowel his party.

The speech, says a New York Times editorial, "made us reflect on how little Mr. Bush accomplished by needlessly invading Iraq in March 2003--and then ludicrously declaring victory two months later."

"We," the Times adds about Obama's speech, "are puzzled about why he talks to Americans directly so rarely and with seeming reluctance...The country particularly needs to hear more from Mr. Obama about what he rightly called the most urgent task--'to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work.'”

The country needs to hear more from the President in words that go beyond his by-the-numbers declamation yesterday. Perhaps Gates' near-weeping points the way for Barack Obama to share, in the poet's words, "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

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