It's hard not to examine President Obama's speech on Iraq and the economy without experiencing a sinking feeling. Obama employed a number of nautical metaphors about sailing through turbulent seas and storms in his speech, but even he seemed a little queasy about it all. Nothing could have made clearer the extent to which he remains a hostage of the Bush era, both in domestic and foreign policy. His speech did not chart a path to the future but remained mired in the past.
Obama declared, "We have now been through nearly a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we are trying to build for our nation -- a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity may seem beyond our reach." But it is simply not the case that we have endured a long and painful recession. The truth is that America continues to endure it.
The same goes for Iraq. Despite the president's pretense that combat is over, or at least that the war is, or that something has ended (it's not really quite clear what), Iraq has no government. Were the remaining 50,000 American troops to exit, Iraq would almost surely be engulfed by civil war, which could happen anyway. Meanwhile, the GOP is pretending as though everything is hunky-dory in Iraq and George W. Bush should get all the credit.
Perhaps Obama will recover his footing in the coming weeks and go on the offensive. But for the moment, he remains an easy target for the GOP. A sagging economy and endless war abroad are unlikely to revive America's or his fortunes.