The announcement that troops in Iraq will be home by the end of the year could not have come at a better time for the Obama administration. As President Obama’s handling of the economy weighs heavily on his approval ratings, a win in the foreign affairs arena is welcome news for the administration.
But the president would be wise to use caution before popping champagne bottles and patting his administration on the back too soon.
We need only to think back to the prior administration’s mistakes to understand why the need for discretion and restraint is of the upmost importance.
Back in 2003, President Bush announced the end of major combat missions in Iraq, beneath a banner that prematurely proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished.” It was a moment that history would characterize as a misjudgment in a war that continues to this day.
Brian Taylor, policy analyst and president of the Penny Institute said, “He has to walk gingerly around this issue. His detractors and his critics are waiting for the ball to drop in Iraq; waiting for more sectarian violence and instability to break out there. So, for the most part, his comments have been measured.”
As news of the president’s announcement circulated, a headline on the White House’s website read “President Obama Has Ended the War In Iraq.”
Tara Setmeyer, conservative pundit and communication’s director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), warns against the urge to treat the Iraq announcement as a coup for the administration. “No one can claim “victory,” especially not a personal one, given the extraordinary cost to this country both financially and in U.S. troop casualties,” she said.
Political observers will also point out that the troop withdrawal was more of a collaborative effort than a singular achievement and that groundwork laid by Obama’s predecessor helped make it possible.
“First of all, the U.S. troop withdrawal was part of the Status of Forces Agreement signed under the Bush administration. They were never going to stay indefinitely,” said Setmeyer.
During his press conference Friday at the White House, President Obama reminded people that the troop withdrawal announcement was a fulfillment of a promise he made during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Taylor suggests that any political points gained may be short-lived. “Padding the president’s foreign policy credentials isn’t a negative thing but, while it may cause a quick bump in his favorability ratings, people will be more focused on the economy than foreign policy.”