President Obama hit most of the right notes in his prime-time, Oval Office speech to the nation Tuesday regarding the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

President Obama hit most of the right notes in his prime-time, Oval Office speech to the nation Tuesday regarding the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.


"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," he said in words many Americans have been waiting and wanting to hear for seven years.


In the 18-minute address, the president honestly acknowledged his own doubts about the 2003 decision to invade and the 2007 surge that followed; graciously tipped his hat to former President George W. Bush - "no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security ... there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it" - when he could have taken a much different tone; justifiably commended "America's men and women in uniform" who "at every turn ... served with courage and resolve," while pledging that Uncle Sam will be there for them in the future "because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it"; and promised to turn America's sights inward, no doubt something of a political calculation that nonetheless is welcome news to many.


"Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest - it is in our own. ... Our nation's strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. ... We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has shortchanged investments in our own people and contributed to record deficits," he said in an echo of Dwight D. Eisenhower's warnings of a half century ago. "As a result ... our nation's long-term competitiveness is put at risk. ... Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. ... In the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as a president."


That does not mean now ignoring Iraq - "Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not." Nor does it mean shortchanging our efforts in Afghanistan, where sadly, central Illinois lost one of its own last week in Marine Lance Cpl. Robert "R.J." Newton of Creve Coeur. The ability to move the resources once dedicated to Iraq will permit America to go "on offense" against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, said Obama, but "make no mistake ... open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's." U.S. troop reductions will begin there, their pace "determined by conditions on the ground," in July 2011.


All in all, "it is time to turn the page" - economically, politically, emotionally - on the nation's warmaking of going on 10 years now, said the president. So it is, within the dictates of reason and reality.


Of course, it is impossible for any commander in chief to make everyone happy. Obama's critics from the left point out that 50,000 U.S. troops remain in that part of the Middle East. So they do, and if you want Iraq to succeed, to have made our intervention there worth it, so they must. The White House says they'll be gone by the end of next year.


Critics of a different stripe point out that our mission there is far from over, that Iraq still lacks a coalition government six months after elections there, that it remains a dangerous place. In fact there has been a small uptick in violence since the last of our combat troops left Aug. 19, with one of our soldiers killed and four wounded. Nonetheless, there is far less blood being spilled in Iraq now by any measure, and the politicians "are politicking ... not shooting at each other," noted Defense Secretary Robert Gates.


Sure, a lot can still go wrong. The world is filled with bad guys who hate the idea of peace. But Iraq's chances are better than they were.


Finally, House Minority Leader John Boehner knocked a president who opposed the war and the surge for now trying to "proudly claim credit for the results." We know Republicans want to win in November, but that's a red herring. Read the address. It was not a political stump speech in any way, shape or form, delivered in utterly sober fashion - some would say too much - with precious little self-congratulation.


In fact this president kept his promise on Iraq. That is mighty rare in American politics. He deserves credit for that.


Now, on to Israel.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.