The tightrope

In his late-August speech marking the end of combat missions in Iraq, President Barack Obama walked a rhetorical tightrope between his sense that the war had been misguided from its outset and his conviction that it was “time to turn the page,” as he put it, by focusing more intently on solving America’s domestic economic problems.

While he acknowledged the cost in treasure and American lives lost (more than 4,400), he said little about the far greater cost in Iraqi lives lost (more than 100,000). Nor was mention made of the millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes or the lingering—and potentially explosive—tensions between Sunni and Shiite factions.

Iraq remains a terribly wounded nation. Its infrastructure is shattered, it’s plagued by terrorist bombers and its parliament is so deeply divided it has been unable to form a government for five months. It would be naive to think that there won’t be more fighting in Iraq. Indeed, we’ve already seen this in the early weeks of September.

For now, the 50,000 troops remaining there offer at least some assurance of stability. But what will happen at the end of 2011, when they all are scheduled to leave?

In the short term, the President George W. Bush-led occupation has empowered Iran in the region, served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, cost the United States more than a trillion dollars and failed to foster a healthy Iraq. No wonder the president wants to turn the page.