Brian Goldman | A drawn-out war gets a drowned-out end
The Gold Standard | The end of the Iraq War was muted by momentary distractions
October 24, 2011, 1:23 am·
The Gold Standard
There exists a bubble that provides some distance between the city of Philadelphia and Penn.
This weekend, however, a few events punctured holes in that bubble — Eric Cantor, Occupy Wharton/Huntsman/Penn.
One event that garnered relatively little attention but carries weighty implications for students and faculty alike also occurred — President Barack Obama’s announcement to withdraw all troops from Iraq by year’s end.
The reaction to this news, however, has been underwhelming. Recall how the 2006 midterm elections became a referendum on the increasingly unpopular war. Recall how the war has been, since its inception, a lightning rod issue on both ends of the political spectrum. Recall how Obama’s opposition to the war was what lifted him to national prominence in the first place.
Meanwhile, a separate international event received arguably more publicity than Obama’s announcement of the troop withdrawal from Iraq — the death of Muammar Gaddafi.
This imbalance is interesting considering that we have been in Iraq for the better part of the last decade, while we have only been in Libya for the better part of the year. Iraq encapsulated a nation and embroiled our politics; Libya was a footnote, an afterthought.
Qaddafi’s death, however, was captured on video and disseminated widely throughout the media. It became a spectacle of sorts, seeing the deposed dictator given rough justice by his former people.
With Iraq, all there existed was a video of a president and a press conference, hardly the stuff that spikes viewership and heightens cable TV ratings.
Of course, the pullout from Iraq affects students to a much greater degree, on the whole, than Libya ever could. There are those our age who — after a tour, or two, or three — can finally envision a future without Iraq. Without speaking of our national security concerns, this release from war is a positive thing for our peers.
Yet, there is little talk in the media of coming-home celebrations, of troops walking out of carriers and air force units to the sound of horns and cheers and applause from fellow Americans. The war in Iraq resembles the famous saying about the month of March — it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.
The announcement of the drawdown in Iraq also provides interesting insights into the Occupy Wall Street protest. The movement has not stopped since Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq; it has not even paused. We saw evidence of that on Friday when Huntsman Hall was overrun by zealous protestors. Despite wishes to the contrary by some Penn faculty and pundits who have tried to hijack the movement for a host of liberal priorities, the disconnect between Iraq and Occupy Wall Street highlights a simple casual relationship — the movement seems unconcerned with our foreign policy, generally speaking. It is focused on domestic issues and the economy specifically.
The timing of the Iraq announcement comes at an odd time because of Occupy Wall Street. Was the announcement a political calculation on the part of the Obama administration — a ploy to satisfy a base that it sees as growing increasingly active? The decision to not modify an agreement with the Iraqi government — which essentially allows us to withdraw (nearly) completely — was not made on Friday, when it was announced. Thus, the decision over the timing provides the most nuanced sliver of insight into the functioning of the Obama administration pre-election cycle.
Or was the announcement tied to Qaddafi’s death, as to further enhance the President’s foreign policy credentials — a two-for, if you will?
Regardless, if the Obama administration wishes to capture the ever-fleeting attention of young people and crack the vaunted Penn bubble, it needs to keep trying. As we saw this weekend, even the seemingly biggest of issues can get lost in the urgency of “now.”
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.