Retiring ‘Mission Accomplished’ and the Long Hot Summer


Perhaps Oprah brought the president a cake when she joined his tight circle of Chicago friends for a birthday dinner this week. That’s more of a celebration than he has been able to have for any of his other landmark dates this year. Consider the options:

Iraq | The president said U.S. combat involvement would be complete by the end of this month, and for all intents and purposes this is true. But there would be no aircraft carrier “Mission Accomplished” merriment. Instead, the president marked the occasion — the kept promise — with a fairly low-key speech to a ballroom full of disabled veterans in Atlanta.

Afghanistan | If there is one deadline that is causing the White House heartburn, this is it. The promised pullout date to start withdrawing does not arrive until next year, but Republicans have promised to push back against this until at least then. Setting a deadline, their argument goes, sends bad signals to insurgents and enemies of the U.S./NATO-led effort. The Pentagon says next year’s target date would only be the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement, but after July went on record as the war’s bloodiest month of the year in Afghanistan, that is not an entirely reassuring argument either.

Gay Marriage | Partisans rejoiced and protested when a federal judge in California overturned the Golden State’s same-sex marriage ban on the day before the president’s latest Supreme Court pick won U.S. Senate confirmation. On its face, one has nothing to do with the other. But by the time Elena Kagan arrives at the Court on what could normally be a celebratory day for the Democratic president — the first Monday in October — an appeal to the gay marriage ruling will likely be on its way as well. This could present a problem for a president, who has said he favors civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.

Vacations | What’s not to like about vacations – family time together away from the maddening Washington crowd? Yet even these annual events are fraught with presidential peril. Earlier this year, the word was that Mr. Obama would be trapped in Washington unless this Gulf oil leak was plugged. Hallelujah. It’s plugged. But before the Obamas can head to their usual preferred Martha’s Vineyard relaxation destination, they must first spend a symbolic weekend, apparently, in Panama City, Fla. — the better to demonstrate their love of the Gulf.

Even the House of Representatives may have a little “vacation interrupt-us” next week — mostly so Democrats can pass a $10 billion infusion of emergency aid for school districts. Republicans call it a “job killer” and a giveaway to public employee unions. But another critical deadline looms that makes it impossible for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to look the other way. That’s Nov. 2 — the date of the midterm elections.

So considering what the fall holds, I hope Oprah got the president a cake.