NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land says he has plenty of disagreements with President Obama but believes the commander-in-chief was on the right track during a recent major policy speech on Iraq.
During his Feb. 27 speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Obama said the U.S. will end its combat mission in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, but will leave a “transitional force” of between 35,000-50,000 troops there to: train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces; conduct “targeted counter-terrorism missions”; and protect ongoing civilian and military efforts. Under an agreement signed with the Iraqi government during the Bush administration, all U.S. forces must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
Land and other leaders who backed the war and believe the Bush troop surge has been a success took heart when Obama told the Marines, “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime — and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government — and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life — that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.”
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial with the headline, “Obama’s Bush Vindication.” Obama, after all, during the presidential campaign was highly critical of Bush’s handling of the war.
During his Feb. 28 “Richard Land Live” radio program — a portion of which was replayed March 4 on his “For Faith and Family” broadcast — Land read the editorial.
“I do want to point out one place where President Obama, I think, has taken the right step and in doing so has vindicated much of Bush’s foreign policy on Iraq,” Land said, partially paraphrasing the editorial but making it clear it was his position as well. “It was never very likely that President Obama would come out and praise George W. Bush for his handling of the Iraq war. And in his speech at Camp Lejeune … he didn’t. Then again, we didn’t quite expect to find ourselves praising President Obama for his handling of Iraq. But I find myself in the position of doing so.”
Land added, “[Obama] helped to do away with the criticism that I’ve had of him. He has not been, up until this point, in my opinion, sufficiently affirming of what our country has accomplished and what the Iraqis have accomplished.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial noted that Obama again acknowledged that U.S. forces had “succeeded beyond any expectation.”
“President Obama,” the editorial said, “also recognized that Iraqis themselves have made significant political progress, and that ‘there is renewed cause for hope in Iraq.’ That’s a far cry from his message of last July, when he told reporters, after visiting Iraq, that ‘So far, I think we have not seen the kind of political reconciliation that’s going to bring about long-term stability in Iraq.’
“But more important than Mr. Obama’s implicit repudiation of his own positions as a candidate (and the implicit vindication of Mr. Bush’s position, to say nothing of John McCain’s),” the editorial said, “is his decision to maintain a sizable U.S. military presence in Iraq — in the range of 35,000 to 50,000 troops — past the August 2010 ‘withdrawal’ date. That ‘transitional force’ is roughly the size of the U.S. military presence in South Korea through the Cold War. And its mission, involving training of Iraqi forces, U.S. force protection and ‘targeted counterterrorism missions,’ largely describes what the U.S. is already doing in Iraq.”
Obama, the editorial said, is “showing a commitment to Iraq’s continued democratic progress” and is “making clear the strategic advantage of having a stable U.S. ally in the heart of the Persian Gulf.”
“Good for Mr. Obama,” Land said after reading part of the president’s speech. “I want to give Mr. Obama credit where credit is due. I appreciate that he has acknowledged what our military has done. I applaud him for acknowledging what the Bush administration has handed off to him in Iraq, and that is an opportunity to help stabilize that region with a democratic ally named Iraq.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.