Obama’s American Sniper
Seeing “American Sniper” made the State of the Union speech pretty unbearable.
By Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal
Barack Obama was 15 minutes into his State of the Union speech when I arrived home to watch it, having just walked back from seeing “American Sniper.”
Watching a movie about a Navy SEAL who served four tours fighting in Iraq was not the best way to enhance the experience of a Barack Obama speech. As a matter of fact, it was pretty unbearable.
Because Clint Eastwood directed “American Sniper” the movie is about more than the story of Chris Kyle, the highly skilled rifle marksman from Texas. In 2006, Mr. Eastwood presented two movies about the famous World War II battle of Iwo Jima. “Letters from Iwo Jima” told the story from the perspective of Japanese soldiers, and “Flags of Our Fathers” from the Americans’ side.
So “American Sniper” is not a crude paean to “our boys” in the Iraq war. What it does is convey the extraordinary personal, psychological and physical sacrifice of the U.S. Marines who fought al Qaeda in Fallujah, Ramadi and the other towns of Iraq’s Anbar province beginning in 2003 and through the period of the Anbar Awakening, which ended with the Marines pacifying the province.
It’s just a movie, so even “American Sniper’s” small slice only hints at the price America paid—some 3,500 combat deaths and another 32,000 wounded—to bring Iraq to a point of relative, if fragile, stability in 2011.
Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.
Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)
Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.
In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.
Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness.
In the one spontaneous moment of Tuesday evening’s speech, Mr. Obama cracked back at some chiding Republicans that he’d won two elections. And he’s right. The first election was a remarkable, historic event for the United States. His second election was a historic electoral mistake, leaving the country and the world to be led by a president who is living on his own fantasy island.
He said in the State of the Union that we are leading “a broad coalition” against ISIS. We are? What coalition? Mainly it’s the Iraqi army and Kurds battling for survival alongside U.S air support.
The president said we are “supporting a moderate opposition in Syria.” But twice in 2014 Mr. Obama derided the Syrian moderates as dentists, pharmacists and teachers. U.S. support for the moderates is de minimis.
On Ukraine, Mr. Obama said, “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small.” But bullying is exactly what Russia’s Vladimir Putin is doing to Ukraine because Mr. Obama refuses to give its army even basic defensive weapons.
Then there’s the grandest foreign-policy self-delusion of the Obama presidency—the never-ending nuclear arms deal with Iran. Mr. Obama said we’ve “halted the progress of its nuclear program.” Slowed perhaps but no one thinks we’ve “halted” Iran’s multifacility nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile project. Only in the Obama fantasy is it halted.
Sen. Robert Menendez , the New Jersey foreign-policy Democrat, who sat bolted to his seat during the speech, said the next day that the administration’s talking points on Iran now sound “straight out of Tehran.”
There is a lot of American flag in “American Sniper.” When Chris Kyle’s 2013 funeral procession drives down I-35 in Waco, people with American flags line the streets and overpasses. Until the American people vote for a new president in 2016, what all of that represents will remain a world away from Washington.