By CALVIN SHERWOOD
It’s been over seven years since the war in Iraq started and despite many fears of ceaseless occupation, the last combat divisions have pulled out. For many, the next question is ‘now what?’
President Obama has withdrawn the troops, claiming the combat mission is over and America is turning over a new page in its relations with Iraq. All of this is true, but much of America is already asking another question, “So what?”
Violence in Iraq has dropped dramatically in the last few years and our focus has turned to Afghanistan, where violence from Taliban insurgents has spiked.
At home, economic issues are paramount, and in the run-up to the elections in November, those issues are what burn most brightly in the minds and hearts of voters.
According to Rasmussen Reports, polls confirm that only 40 percent of Americans consider the war in Iraq ‘very important’ this month, compared to the 85 percent who said the same of the current state of the economy.
Even Obama’s address last week acknowledged the importance of our current economic state, by saying, “our most urgent task is to restore our economy.”
That this is mentioned at all reveals how aloof the public has become about Iraq, and that they are ready to move on to issues much closer to home. Obama’s recognition of this in his address signals a closure of the significant political importance Iraq once held.
Besides those occasional nods to American economic affairs, Obama, for the most part, simply unveiled his future vision of America’s international role in the Middle East.
No new details should be surprising, as it was just a renewal of political commitment to Iraq, even though the troops are being withdrawn.
His next point states that some of these troops previously in Iraq will now be sent to Afghanistan. This too should not come as a surprise, given the recent turmoil and instability of the region.
While many pundits hem-and-haw over the timing and ramifications of his public announcement, for better or for worse, Obama has only justified a movement that is both politically unsurprising and eventual.
The actions that follow should and will have more influence than Obama’s words to the public because they simply remain a statement of future conditions.
There should be very little room for political controversy on this issue because Republicans have little to bemoan with a smooth transition, and Democrats cannot gloat given that there are plenty of other issues to keep them sweating until November.
This speech, at one point may have been deemed a victory, but will not make or break Obama’s presidency.
Iraq is neither the quagmire of Vietnam, nor the resounding victory like the Gulf War. Since political attention has waned, there will likely be little effect on the immediate electoral outcomes due to his new stance.
This is as it should be, for Obama has nearly finished up a war started under a previous administration that he viciously opposed. This does not mean Obama is off the hook. Now that he has officially changed gears from Iraq to Afghanistan, the critique of his actions must change accordingly.
Afghanistan is now very much Obama’s ‘War on Terror’ as it was Bush’s. Obama must now tread carefully as he stations more troops in Afghanistan, for his actions are now to be judged as his alone.