President Obama's speech Tuesday night on the end of the American combat mission in Iraq reflected the nature of modern warfare.
There were no declarations of victory, no calls for celebration, no boasting of "mission accomplished." At best, this was an acknowledgment of a self-imposed turning point, a milestone in the ongoing U.S. experiment in Iraq.
As the president noted in his closing remarks, we live in "an age without surrender ceremonies."
Nonetheless, the speech represented a useful reminder of where we, as a nation, have come in the seven years since the invasion of Iraq started. The president also offered a picture of where he hopes the nation will go from here.
And, perhaps above all, the speech was an occasion to praise the valor and sacrifice of the troops that have served in Iraq. Obama praised the troops for "completing every mission they were given," and linked them with the "unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar -- Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own."
But Obama's claim that we have "turned a new page" in Iraq was less convincing. While 100,000 combat troops have been evacuated, as the president had promised they would be at the end of August, 50,000 support troops remain in Iraq, not to mention thousands of contractors, diplomats and other U.S. civilians.
They all will remain in harm's way as the struggle for political supremacy continues in Iraq. And while the mission for remaining troops has been renamed, it almost assuredly will include armed conflicts with insurgents for months to come.
Obama also may have little luck in urging the nation to turn the page on the domestic political disagreements regarding the war and its origins. Obama graciously praised former President Bush's support for the troops and his love of country, but that does not lay to rest the false pretenses under which Bush took the nation to war.
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