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The Monitor's View

Obama speech on Iraq, and a foreign policy in need of progress

This week, Obama addresses the nation on Iraq and Afghanistan and restarts direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. His challenge is to show enough progress to inspire support on these long-term commitments, from the American public and the players themselves.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / August 30, 2010

This is a momentous week for President Obama and his foreign policy. On Aug. 31, his televised address to the nation marks the official end of the US combat mission in Iraq, with remaining troops used mostly to help train Iraqi security forces.

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The next day, Mr. Obama restarts the moribund Mideast peace process that will include direct negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington.

Yes, a momentous week – in a long and patient effort in both the war on terrorism and peace in the Middle East.

Patience is not America’s middle name. The Great Recession slew 8 million jobs that haven't been restored overnight, neither has New Orleans been rebuilt in the five short years since hurricane Katrina.

In war, the public sizes up the cost of blood and treasure, and its judgment does not always match a president’s. An August poll by Associated Press-GfK shows that nearly 6 in 10 Americans oppose the Afghanistan war and only 38 percent support the expanded effort there.

Mr. Obama himself is sensitive to not getting militarily bogged down overseas, promising to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan next summer and emphasizing in his Saturday radio address that Iraq is now “free to chart its own course.”

The United States may be down to fewer than 50,000 troops in Iraq (from more than 140,000 when Obama took office), but the job of nation building is far from over, over there.

A new government has yet to be formed as political leaders wrangle over the results of parliamentary elections last March. Basic services are still woefully lacking. And Al Qaeda in Iraq still draws breath. It claims responsibility for more than two dozen bombings last week that killed more than 50 people.

Obama won’t be able to talk about Iraq without also weaving in Afghanistan, where many US troops have been redeployed and where US military leaders are attempting to reapply the “surge” strategy used in Iraq. That, too, requires patience, to see if this strategy will work.