President Obama's State of the Union address was a disappointment.
Don't get me wrong, it was a perfectly acceptable speech, but the event itself lacked the visceral drama I've come to expect from political gatherings with so many Republicans in the audience.
When they get together, GOP-types love to call Obama a Socialist, a Communist, a fascist, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Stalitler, Halin or HilStaliMao. They deny his American citizenship by calling him Kenyan or Indonesian. They even deny his faith by stating or insinuating he's Muslim. But we didn't get any of that.
At the very least, I was hoping for an outburst similar to the "You lie!" offered by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolinistan, during Obama's health care speech last year.
(My real-time Twitter response to "You lie!" last year was quoted on CNN.com, elevating me from Z-list pundit commentator all the way up to Y for a whole 36 hours. I was hoping to repeat the trick this year, but didn't get so much as a "You misrepresent!" or even a "You leave out key details that perhaps undermine the point you're trying to make!" to hang my snark on.)
With nothing inane to exploit, I'm stuck searching for excitement within the actual text of Obama's speech. I think I found some.
Five-thousand-eight-hundred-sixty-four words into the speech, Obama said this: "As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as president. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August."
You're probably wondering where the excitement is in that quotation. I'll tell you where. The excitement is in the truth.
The biggest foreign policy and military catastrophe of our time – possibly of American history – is coming to an end. And unlike many of Obama's other big first-year promises (health care or closing Gitmo), this one is actually happening on schedule.
When Obama announced in February 2009 that the U.S. would cease patrolling Iraqi cities by summer 2009, allies and critics alike were skeptical. As late as April, the U.S.' top commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, was giving interviews warning that the U.S. could blow past its deadline.
But Odierno was wrong. U.S. troops handed over responsibility for security in Iraqi cities on June 30, 2009. Iraqis celebrated like it was a holiday.
Critics of the pullout warned that Iraq wasn't ready to take over serious military duties from the U.S. Heck, even supporters of the pullout (e.g., me) weren't so sure. Happily, they/I were/was wrong. Iraq is still an extraordinarily violent place, but not substantially more so than it was when U.S. troops patrolled its streets. December 2009 was the first month of the Iraq war in which no U.S. troops there died in combat. For an atheist-Muslim-Mao-Stalin terrorist, that Obama guy gave the U.S. military one hell of a great Christmas present.
A large withdrawal operation is under way at the moment. The U.S. began 2009 with approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. That number now is down to about 100,000. The exiting troops are taking with them tons of equipment – tanks, vehicles, guns, office furniture, beds, flag lapel pins, you name it. By August, the military will have removed 1.5 million containers of equipment out of Iraq.
The biggest speed bump on the way out will be Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections. Originally scheduled for January, they've been pushed to March because Iraqi politicians couldn't agree on the voting rules. Compounding the mess has been an attempt by the blatantly corrupt electoral commission to exclude more than 500 mostly Sunni candidates by claiming, without evidence, that they're Saddamites.
Iraq watchers correctly worry that excluding Sunnis from the government could trigger another sectarian flare-up. To soothe sectarian tension, Vice President Joe Biden went to Iraq to pressure Iraqis to work out a deal. It's not clear what was said or done, but an Iraqi court overturned the ban a few days ago, and it appears many of the disputed candidates will appear on the ballot after all.
Barring a major escalation in violence, the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will happen on schedule.
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