WASHINGTON - A somber President Obama declared an end to the long and costly Iraq war Tuesday night, pledging he now intends to "turn the page" to America's economic revival.
"The American combat mission in Iraq has ended," Obama told the nation in an 18-minute address, only his second from the Oval Office. "Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
The U.S. will help Iraq develop a stable government and keep up the increasingly difficult fight in Afghanistan, he pledged. But Obama asserted that "our central mission as a people and my central responsibility as President" is reinvigorating the limping economy at home.
"Today, our most urgent task is to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," he said.
The leader speaking from the Oval Office on Tuesday night was not the anti-war candidate of 2008.
Thank goodness for that.
President Obama praised the fact that "the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," even though he opposed the troop surge that made it possible to turn the tide against the insurgency.
He hailed "a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization," even though he opposed the conflict from the start.
He commended the troops for defeating "a regime that had terrorized its people," when the fact is Saddam Hussein would probably still be in power today if not for the war.
Many will seize on the awkwardness of Obama giving credit to George W. Bush and the "dumb war" (Obama's words) he started. But when a President gets handed the keys to the country, he has to adjust to national security realities.
Obama didn't want to invade Iraq, as he delicately acknowledged Tuesday night. But the responsibility to make the best of it, and wind down the war, fell to him. He sucked it up, followed through with the surge and did what he promised, ending U.S. combat operations there.
In other words, he behaved like a responsible commander in chief. Let that be a lesson to those, especially on the far right, who seek to delegitimize all Obama says and does.
Obama's most rabid right-wing enemies must get used to it: This is America's President. This is the troops' commander. Whether you like it or not, at least until 2012.
Disagree with him. Disagree with him vociferously if you want. Dissent is perfectly American. But stop trying to smear him as un-American. That's sick and corrosive.
Do the majority of Republicans - who, according to a new Newsweek poll, reportedly believe that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world" - really grasp what they're suggesting?
Does Rush Limbaugh, who calls "Imam Hussein Obama" an "anti-American President," have no shame?
Do these people understand that in Afghanistan, Obama has escalated a front-line war against Islamic fundamentalists?
Do they know that in Pakistan, Obama is ordering far more drone strikes against Islamist radicals than his predecessor did?
Again: Disagreement is perfectly patriotic. But by unscrupulously attacking the patriotism of the commander in chief, rabid Obama haters are toying with the people whose service they claim to salute.