Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obama declares U.S. combat in Iraq has ended

At the end of a very hot day here in Brooklyn that included growing concerns over what Hurricane Earl could potentially bring to Fire Island on Friday, I find myself thinking about President Obama’s declaration Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended.

So much has changed since I walked past those three men huddled around a battery-powered radio at a newspaper kiosk on a street in Granada, Spain, around 3:30 a.m. on March 21, 2003 (or around 9:30 p.m. EST on March 20, 2003.) I was walking home after I dropped my friend Becky off at her hotel after a night of bar-hopping. I could not hear the news to which these men were listening (probably because I was tired and possibly still drunk), but I realized hours later when I saw the front pages of several newspapers that these men were almost certainly listening to then-President George W. Bush announcing American and coalition troops had begun to enter Iraq.

I was among the handful of siesta-hour shoppers in the Al Campo department store near my house in Granada who gathered around a group of televisions to watch American troops pull the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad to the ground on April 9, 2003. We stood there in silence as the spectacle unfolded live on Spanish television, but shoppers slowly returned to their shopping. I did the same about 15 minutes later.

More than seven years later, Obama is now commander-in-chief. His Oval Office speech earlier tonight contained an abundance of patriotic metaphors—including a description of American troops as the “steel in our ship of state”—and a strategic use of the words “security” and “milestone” and the phrase “domestic challenges”, among others, but Obama has fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. Bringing a polarized country together and turning the page on one if the most divisive issues it has seen in recent history, however, will take far more than an abundance of patriotic metaphors and categorizations of those who served in Iraq and the use of politically strategic words ahead of mid-term elections.

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