I did not see the speech but read it on Instapundit. The speech was as expected, especially following the Petraeus Report. Namely, the surge will now be wound down.
Looking at this from afar, my concern is that once US troops leave, the violence begins again. But keeping a large army in Iraq indefinitely is not an option. The real issue is whether the Iraqi government is serious enough to take control. It seems at times that the Iraqi government is not really interested in getting their country in order. n While I think it was good to give Iraq breathing space, it is now time to give the government there a timetable. We keep some troops behind to help train the Iraqi Army and to hit back at al-Qaeda is they get active, but otherwise get ready to turn the country over to the Iraqis.
Yes, this sounds a lot like the Obama plan.
One change I would make though is to also keep some presence in the Kurdish territories. The Kurds are the largest "nation" without a state and the victim of a great historical wrong after World World. After being essentially promised a state in return for rising against the Turks, post war political considerations intervened. The Turks make a stronger play once the war ended so the much of northern Kurdistan ended up in Turkey. As France and Persia had been promised concessions, some Kurds ended up in those countries. And finally, the Kurds of Iraq were scarified to British concerns, especially articulated by Gertrude Bell, that the Kurdish oil fields be assigned to the new nation of Iraq.
Given regional politics, a true Kurdish state is not possible now. It would cause too many problems with Turkey and also cause problems in Syria and Iran. But the Kurds seem more interested in cleaning up their little patch of land rather than killing each other and assisting them now could right this great wrong. It also may cause problems in Turkey, but hopefully not. One civil war at a time.
The Shia and Sunni Arabs of Iraq will finally need to figure out how to live together. The strife goes back to the days of Mohammed's successors, but the immediate cause again has its genesis in post World War I politics. When the British found themselves in control of the region, they looked around for local leaders to take control., As the British were comfortable with monarchies, they supported and built up the various emirs and tribal leaders. In the case of Iraq, the British looked to Prince Faisal, one of the leaders of the desert revolt made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. Faisal initially was to head a pan-Arab government based in Syria. That would have put him (and the British) in conflict with the French, who expected to receive Syria as the fruits of victory. So they killed two birds with one stone.
The problem was that as a Hashimite, Faisal was a Sunni Arab in a country where Sunni Arabs were a minority. Besides the Kurds, then as now, the largest ethnic group were the Shia Arabs. Also, at the time, the largest Jewish community of Baghdad was influential, due to their location in the capital and importance to the economy. Add the various Christian sects and the odd Turk, and Iraq was already an ethnic stew. The Shia for various reasons refused to join in the government, so Iraq early on was hobbled by the fact that a significant portion of the population (the Kurds and Shia) were not actively engaged in the process of government.
While the Jews were pushed out of the country following the Arab-Israeli wars, the remaining ethnic complexity remains. Sunnis fear retribution for 90 years of control, the Shia finally have control, and the Kurds seem to be interested in staying out of the way of the Shia and Sunni. Hence, the Iraqi government is afraid to tread into the stew and to reach a solution. For that reason, a timetable needs to be in place. The Iraqi government need to be forced to get its act together. Right now, with US troops patrolling their country, it is unnecessary for them to act. During the Desert Revolt, Lawrence of Arabia rejected the offer of British combat troops (though he accepted specialists). His reasoning was so long as there were British troops to do the fighting, the Arab army would let the British do it. Then as now, the only way to get the Iraqis to take control is to make it clear that they will have to, that once a certain date comes, we leave.