09/01/2010 04:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama OutFoxes Right Wing on Iraq

When embedded reporters dutifully reported the last "combat" troops had left Iraq it looked as if President Obama was going to fall into the same trap as President Bush.

On May 1, 2003, wearing a jump suit, President Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq. It had been the title of a short propaganda film in World War II, but that was only two years early.

The departure of the last combat troops in Iraq came more than seven years later. About 140 had died when Bush declared the war over; nearly 4,300 died in the years that followed.

Even after the departure 50,000 troops remain in Iraq. It isn't likely to console their families if any are killed. No one is suggesting the deaths have ended. In fact, a U.S. soldier was killed this week by a sniper in Tikrit, reported. Very little attention has been paid to this incident.

Like Thelma and Louise, Obama appeared ready to dry into the abyss. Not only did progressives attack Obama, but Republicans joined them.

The GOP accused Obama of taking credit for something Bush started. "Some leaders who opposed criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results," said House Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio.

It appears that whatever his intent, Obama stopped before driving off the cliff. Perhaps he just took his head phones off.

In a time of language tricks -- offensives become surges, insurgents are militants -- it's all about perception management. Combat troops become combat brigades. Fighting is not formal so then it must be informal.

The White House had made clear he would not be making victory claims in a nationally televised speech Tuesday night that was meant to acknowledge the withdrawal of most U.S. troops.

Obama told soldiers at Fort Bliss on Tuesday there would be no "victory lap." On Tuesday night he said it was time to focus on the economic crisis the nation is facing.

"At this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad,'' Obama said.

His secretary of defense, Robert Gates, had warned Monday against "premature victory parades or self-congratulations." He went on to say that victory is likely but isn't certain. "I am not saying that all is, or necessarily will be, well in Iraq."

Indeed, six months after national elections, the two leading parties have been unable to come up with a power-sharing agreement. Iran appears likely to play a role. Obama made it clear it was time for Iraq to solve its own problems.

No worries.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who remains in control without a mandate, is hailing the U.S. departure.

"It's a day that Iraq gained back its sovereignty. Iraq is now its own leader," he said. "I promise you the sectarian war will not return," he said, which suggests that it had left. "We will not allow it. Iraqis will be as loving as brothers."

A national poll found that 60% of Iraqis think U.S. troops should stay longer, in larger numbers.

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