Remember the “Mission Accomplished” speech?
You know, the one where the president declared the war in Iraq over, only to have to eat his words as he sent the U.S. military to fight terrorists in Iraq who were taking over vast swaths of the country?
No, I’m not talking about President George W. Bush’s May 1, 2003, speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. I’m talking about President Obama’s speech at the White House on Oct. 21, 2011, in which he boasted about his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops and bring “the long war in Iraq” to an end. It’s still on the White House Web site under the (now ironic) headline “Remarks by the President on Ending the War in Iraq.”
“As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Obama solemnly declared, “[And] today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
“The last American soldier[s] will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops,” the president continued, adding “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
He said this Iraq withdrawal was only the beginning. “The end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition,” Obama intoned. “The tide of war is receding. Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.”
So much for receding tides. As a direct result of the withdrawal he announced that day — a decision he made over the objections of his military commanders on the ground — the terrorists the United States had defeated during the 2007 surge were able to recover, regroup and impose their brutal rule of over a swath of territory in Iraq and Syria the size of Britain.
Now we are back at war in Iraq. Not a new Iraq war, mind you — the same war Obama claimed to have ended in that 2011 speech. A senior administration official admitted that the White House is relying on the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq as statutory authority for the current campaign against the Islamic State. So as a matter of law, the war Obama is now prosecuting in Iraq is a continuation of the war that began there in 2003.
There is one big difference between the Bush and Obama “mission accomplished” speeches, however: Bush quickly realized his was a mistake, while Obama kept giving his over and over again. Obama’s declaration that the “tide of war is receding” (often coupled with a promise to “focus on nation building here at home”) became a staple of his speeches. As recently as a few months ago, on May 27, 2014, Obama gave an address in the Rose Garden in which he announced his plan to fulfill the promise of his “mission accomplished” speech and withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2016.
“It’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Obama declared, adding “Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century.”
As he spoke those words, the forces of the Islamic State were attacking Fallujah and within days had captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city — unleashing a wave of massacres, crucifixions and beheadings.
On “60 Minutes” Sunday, Obama said the intelligence community “underestimated” the threat posed by the Islamic State. The truth is it was Obama who underestimated the threat — not because of bad intelligence, but because he was blinded by his own ideological insistence on withdrawal. He did not want to hear that a mortal danger was gathering in Iraq, because it conflicted with his plan to cement his legacy as the president who brought every U.S. soldier home from Iraq and Afghanistan before he left office.
Now, instead of withdrawing, Obama is deploying our military to carry out strikes against the terrorists in Iraq and Syria. And his rhetoric of retreat has been replaced with the language of resolve. “There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly last week. “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”
Amen, Mr. President.
The mission goes on.