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New Direction in U.S. Iraq Policy

Guest Rebecca Kirszner

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Guest Rebecca Kirszner

In meetings today with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, Senators Reid and Durbin set forth their concerns about current U.S. policy in Iraq and laid out five specific recommendations to change course. Noting that "Iraq has descended into a civil war", the Senators urged the Group to act expeditiously in providing a non-partisan way forward for the sake of U.S. troops, American taxpayers, and U.S. national security interests. The complete briefing memo and attachments submitted by Senators Reid and Durbin can be found here.


Members of the Iraq Study Group are: James Baker, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group; Lee Hamilton, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group; Robert Gates; Vernon Jordan; Edwin Meese; Sandra Day O'Connor; Leon Panetta; William Perry; Charles Robb; Alan Simpson




The text of the memo is below.




To: Iraq Study Group


From: Harry Reid and Dick Durbin


Re: Iraq -– Finding A Way Forward


Date: August 2, 2006


We are very grateful that you have taken on the important responsibility of helping policymakers find a way forward in Iraq. A free and stable Iraq is a goal that we all share. But we are terribly concerned that the Bush Administration's current approach is not working, and is not sustainable. As you know, Iraq has exploded in sectarian violence. Close to 2600 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice, while well over 18,000 have been wounded, a third of them grievously. According to the United Nations, nearly 6000 Iraqis died from sectarian warfare in May and June alone. Tens of thousands more have been displaced. In short, we believe Iraq has descended into a civil war, and our troops are stuck in the middle.


We will not belabor the litany of mistakes made by Administration officials in managing the war effort. From the failure to deploy sufficient numbers of troops at the start of the war, to the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, to the failure to plan for the post-war occupation, the mistakes are well known. What we need now, however, is a plan to move forward. That's why your efforts are so important.


Below, we lay out five recommendations that provide an alternative to the current open-ended approach adopted by the Bush Administration. We think this is the best way to advance U.S. national security interests, stabilize Iraq, and provide relief to U.S. soldiers and taxpayers who have borne the burden of the Iraq effort. These recommendations were set forth in a letter we sent to the President on Sunday, July 30th. They were also embodied in a Senate Amendment offered to the 2007 Defense Authorization bill by Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed, and in the "United States Policy in Iraq Act," enacted by the Congress last year. The letter to the President, the Levin/Reed amendment, and the United States Policy in Iraq Act are all attached. We hope you find these suggestions and documents useful, and we look forward to working with you in the months ahead.




1. Transition the U.S. mission and begin the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces. We think it is time to transition the U.S. mission to one of counter-terrorism, training, logistics and force protection. We also believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces should begin before the end of the year. This redeployment is critical to ensuring that Iraqis begin to take the lead for the security of their nation, and so that U.S. forces can be redeployed, if necessary, to other national security challenges elsewhere in the world. Reducing the U.S. footprint will also allow U.S. forces to begin to address alarming readiness issues in the Army. A redeployment will have the collateral benefit of reducing the specter of occupation, which according to our military commanders, is giving rise to some insurgent activities.


2. Reconcile sectarian differences through more robust diplomacy. We have been disappointed that the Administration has not done more to advocate for changes to the Iraqi Constitution that would achieve a fair sharing of power and resources. Nor has the Administration embraced calls for an international peace conference to bring the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds together to forge a lasting political settlement. Our military commanders remind us often that there are only political solutions to the problems in Iraq, not military ones. We hope, therefore, that you will emphasize the need for further constitutional changes and an international peace conference, modeled after the Dayton Accord of 1995 or the Bonn Agreement of 2002, in your group's final recommendations. We also think it would be useful for the President to appoint a full-time, high-level person of stature to assist the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq with diplomatic efforts within Iraq and within the broader Persian Gulf region.


3. Regionalize the U.S. approach to dealing with Iraq. We think it is long past time to get the other nations in the Persian Gulf region involved in assisting Iraq. Instead of allowing destabilizing and deconstructive influences from Iran and Syria to dominate the region's contributions to Iraq, the Administration, working with the permanent members of the Security Council, should launch a regional security initiative that brings together those nations that want to see Iraq succeed and that can help secure Iraq's borders, assist with institution building and economic reconstruction, and provide security forces training. Such an initiative could serve as a positive catalyst in addressing a number of broader root insecurity issues that affect key players in the region.


4. Revitalize the economic reconstruction effort. Ultimately, the struggle in Iraq, and across the Middle East, is a war to win the hearts and minds of millions of disaffected people and to empower moderate political actors across the region. In Iraq, these were people who were brutalized by a dictator, only to see a botched occupation and rebuilding effort. Every major economic indicator in Iraq is headed in the wrong direction. There are few State Department or other U.S. government personnel located outside of the Green Zone. The U.S. and its allies can and must do better. We believe the United States ought to be playing a greater leadership role in revitalizing the nation-building effort, engaging the international community, seeing that projects actually get completed, cleaning up the corruption, eliminating the no-bid contracts, ensuring that other nations live up to their commitments, and empowering Iraqis to seize initiative in reconstruction and economic development in Iraq.


5. Rebuild the U.S. military. The extended conflict in Iraq has left the military stretched thin and its equipment in disrepair. Considerable investments in manpower and equipment are urgently needed. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as not a single non-deployed Army combat brigade is prepared to meet its wartime mission. Some estimates suggest it will require $50 billion just to repair and replace the military equipment used in Iraq. It would be appropriate, therefore, when developing plans for Iraq, to simultaneously address the needs of the U.S. military. The two subjects are inter-related.

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Guest Judd Legum

At a press conference yesterday, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained that he declined to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the status of the Iraq war this morning because "my calendar was such that to do it...would have been difficult." Amidst a firestorm of criticism, Rumsfeld's schedule miraculously cleared up and, just a few hours later, he agreed to testify. It will be the first time Rumsfeld has testified publicly about the war before the committee since February 2006. Since that time, approximately 300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, 2,530 U.S. troops have been wounded and well over 10,000 Iraq civilians have been killed. Insurgents have conducted an average of 620 attacks per week. In March, there were 7.8 hours of electricity per day in Baghdad (down from 16-24 hours before the war); last month there were 7.6 hours. In March, Iraq produced 2.1 million barrels of crude oil per day (down from 2.5 million barrels per day before the war); last month it produced 2.2 million barrels per day. Last time Rumsfeld testified, there were 133,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; today there are 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and plans to raise that number to 135,000. Progressives in Congress have united around a plan for a phased redeployment of U.S. forces, which offers the best incentive for Iraqis to take over their country while allowing U.S. to refocus its resources on the global threat of terrorist networks. When Rumsfeld appears before the Senate today, he will have to explain why violence is spiraling out of control, reconstruction is stalled and U.S. troops are unable to "stand down." In short, he will have to explain why we should "stay the course" with an administration strategy that is failing.

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Guest Daniel Ellsberg

There is no 'war on terror. ' The invasion and occupation of Iraq are not part of a 'war on terror' . . . What does exist is a horrific and criminal U.S. war OF terror against the people of the world for greater empire.

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Guest Melvin

The U.S. does not have the stomach for a long conflict and will soon revert to its traditional policy of 'running away,' leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed the whole of the Middle East, to be reshaped by Iran and its regional allies.

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Guest Jesse James

There is no 'war on terror. ' The invasion and occupation of Iraq are not part of a 'war on terror' . . . What does exist is a horrific and criminal U.S. war OF terror against the people of the world for greater empire.


People like you should be shot on the spot for betraying our country. George Bush is a great man.

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  • 1 month later...

Finally the President is starting to admit the truth. Protecting the oil is a key factor.




Q Senator Warner says Iraq appears to be drifting sideways, and James Baker says a change in strategy may be needed. Are you willing to acknowledge that a change may be needed?


THE PRESIDENT: Steve, we're constantly changing tactics to achieve a strategic goal. Our strategic goal is a country which can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself. The strategic goal is to help this young democracy succeed in a world in which extremists are trying to intimidate rational people in order to topple moderate governments and to extend a caliphate.


The stakes couldn't be any higher, as I said earlier, in the world in which we live. There are extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives. And they want us to leave, and they want us to -- and they want to topple government. They want to extend an ideological caliphate that is -- has no concept of liberty inherent in their beliefs. They want to control oil resources, and they want to plot and plan and attack us again. That's their objectives. And so -- and our strategic objective is to prevent them from doing that. And we're constantly changing tactics to achieve that objective.


And I appreciate Senator Warner going over there and taking a look. I want you to notice what he did say is, if the plan is now not working -- the plan that's in place isn't working, America needs to adjust. I completely agree. That's what I talk to General Casey about. I said, General, the Baghdad security plan is in its early implementation. I support you strongly, but if you come into this office and say we need to do something differently, I support you. If you need more troops, I support you. If you're going to devise a new strategy, we're with you, because I trust General Casey to make the judgments necessary to put the tactics in place to help us achieve an objective.


And I appreciate Jimmy Baker willingness to -- he and Lee Hamilton are putting this -- have got a group they put together that I think was Congressman Wolf's suggestion -- or passing the law. We supported the idea. I think it's good to have some of our elder statesmen -- I hate to call Baker an elder statesmen -- but to go over there and take a look, and to come back and make recommendations. Somebody said he said, well, you know, cut-and-run isn't working. That's not our policy. Our policy is to help this country succeed, because I understand the stakes. I'm going to repeat them one more time. As a matter of fact, I'm going to spend a lot of time repeating the stakes about what life is like in the Middle East.


It is conceivable that there will be a world in which radical forms, extreme forms of religion fight each other for influence in the Middle East, in which they've got the capacity to use oil as an economic weapon. And when you throw in the mix a nuclear weapon in the hands of a sworn enemy of the United States, you begin to see an environment that would cause some later on in history to look back and say, how come they couldn't see the problem? What happened to them in the year 2006? Why weren't they able to see the problems now and deal with them before it came too late, Steve?


And so Iraq is an important part of dealing with this problem. And my vow to the American people is I understand the stakes, and I understand what it would mean for us to leave before the job is done. And I look forward to listening how -- what Jimmy Baker and Lee Hamilton say about how to get the job -- I appreciate them working on this issue because I think they understand what I know, and the stakes are high.


And the stakes are high when it comes to developing a Palestinian state so that Israel can live at peace. And the stakes are high when it comes to making sure the young democracy of Lebanon is able to fend off the extremists and radicals that want to crater that democracy.


This is the real challenge of the 21st century. I like to tell people we're in an ideological struggle. And it's a struggle between extremists and radicals and people of moderation who want to simply live a peaceful life. And the calling of this country and in this century is whether or not we will help the forces of moderation prevail. That's the fundamental question facing the United States of America -- beyond my presidency. And you can tell I made my choice. And I made my choice because the most solemn duty of the American President and government is to protect this country from harm.

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  • 1 month later...

Iraq Study Group report released today states If Iraq continues to decline, its government could collapse and ignite a "humanitarian catastrophe" prompting neighboring countries to intervene and hand a propaganda victory to Al-Qaeda.


The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating...


If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe...


Our recommended course has shortcomings, but we firmly believe that it includes the best strategies and tactics to positively influence the outcome in Iraq and the region.


The group says the main thrust of U.S. military involvement in Iraq should become training, with a five-fold increase from 4,000 to about 20,000 American military trainers in Iraq. And it says they should be for the first time assigned even to small units of 50-100 Iraqi soldiers. The report says the U.S. military should put its best troops in the training jobs and should reward them for such service. Commission member and former Defense Secretary William Perry.


"We believe that the thing they needed at this stage, to be able to come up to the task they have is, effectively, on-the-job training," said William Perry. "And that on-the-job training can be best done when they have role models of American teams in front of them."


Perry says he believes the increase in trainers can be made without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq, currently about 140,000.


Another commission member, former Senator Charles Robb, says the move to primarily a training role is a significant policy shift.


"This represents a dramatic change in the way we have been doing business," said Charles Robb. "It represents a clear break from the past tradition of being the principal combat units to a role of combat support."


The group also says the Iraqi military should be given better equipment, perhaps by having departing U.S. units leave their equipment behind. It calls for better U.S. civilian and military intelligence gathering and analysis on Iraq to improve U.S. understanding of the situation there, and how to improve it. And it says the president and the congress should ensure that the global U.S. military capability is restored and enhanced as the combat commitment in Iraq is reduced.


But some of the Group's recommendations sound a lot like what senior U.S. military commanders have been saying for some time. The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told congress a month ago that he is already moving more troops into training roles.


What is interesting to note is the Group's idea for our government to start a dialogue both Iran and with Syria without preliminary conditions and no mention of the Iranian nuclear program which continues to advance.


Click on the link below and download the report.


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Today there was some funny press gaggle with Tony Snow at a news briefing. What is the difference between troop escalation and troop surge?


Q What about this overall premise that Democrats and some are considering holding back money to troops --

MR. SNOW: Well, look, Democrats are going to have to make a choice here and they're going to have to decide where they stand in terms of two issues: Number one, do you want Iraq to succeed, and, if so, what does that mean? And, number two, do you believe in supporting the troops as you say, and how do you express that support? Those are questions that will be answered in the process of public debate and also -- and a lot of other considerations. So we'll just have to see how it plays out.

Q Last one for me. Yesterday you hinted that the President is going to essentially lay out specifics of why Iraq is important to the U.S. as far as our safety. Is that accurate?


MR. SNOW: Well, specifics -- no, we've often described what happens if you have a failed state in Iraq, and we'll continue to make the point, which is, if you've got a failed state in Iraq -- let's draw the image for the American people again -- got Iraq; on one side to its east is Iran, to the west is Syria, two primary terror states who have made it clear that they're going to go after democracies throughout the region. That would include Lebanon, that would include the Palestinian areas. They're trying to send a message that democracy cannot succeed in that part of the world. They're trying to intimidate their neighbors.


If you have an Iraq, with the world's second largest oil reserves, capable of generating incredible amounts of revenue that terrorists can use both to blackmail the West and also to purchase weapons that can be used against anybody else, that creates a situation that's a direct threat to us. So that's really what I was talking about. There is not going to be sort of a roster of specifics, but it is worth reminding the American people of what the stakes are and how they do fit in to the larger war on terror.


Q Back to Kelly's question. The President, beginning in November of '05, I believe, gave a series of speeches on the strategy for victory in Iraq. The American people didn't seem to buy that, the situation in Iraq went downhill. Do you worry about the President's credibility? And is there anything in this speech, or in this plan, that is really, truly new, or is it trying things that have already been tried before?


MR. SNOW: Martha, I will let you judge it, and I will let you ask questions once we've laid it all out. The President understands, and I think you understand, that a war is not a fixed thing that proceeds along a predetermined or straight path, and as situations change, you must adjust. One of the key changes in Iraq last year was the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara and the subsequent flaring up of sectarian violence within Iraq. A year ago a lot of people were feeling optimistic, including members of both parties on Capitol Hill, including people within the military, because here you had the prospects -- you had free elections in Iraq, things seemed to be moving along a pretty good path.


So it's interesting, you can pick whichever wedge of time you want, but there has also been some change in public opinion since late 2005, and in early 2006 there was a sense of optimism. But guess what. The terrorists did succeed in unleashing sectarian violence, and now that has created a new set of realities that one must contend with. The President will talk about that.


I'm simply not going to try to give you a general characterization of how it will be received. My sense is that the American people want to hear what the President has to say. And we're going to spend a lot of time talking about it, because it's not a simple, you know, one-bullet-point plan. There's a lot in it, and as a result, we are going to have an opportunity to take a look at each and all of the aspects.


Q On sectarian violence, is that something the United States should have been prepared for? Or, like the insurgency, you can argue that, who knew? Should they have been prepared for sectarian violence, because we had a letter from Zarqawi, who basically laid out his plan to foment sectarian violence?


MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know, Martha. Apparently, people in Iraq were not quite prepared for it either. The fact is, it happened. And whatever backseat generalship one might wish to practice, the fact is we have important business in Iraq with very high stakes, and the focus now is to figure out a way forward that is going to lead to success.


Q Well, what's the difference between an escalation and a surge?


MR. SNOW: Well, why don't we talk about characterizations once we have a plan?


Q Because I think it's part of a conversation that's going on right now.


MR. SNOW: I understand that, and, guess what -- it's a conversation, as I've said before, that is a bit in a vacuum and I'm not going to get into the business of preemptively characterizing something that we have not released in full detail.


Q But, somehow, "escalation" has become this Democratic word -- the Democratic Party language.


MR. SNOW: Well, ask the guys who do their focus groups. They're going to have an answer for it. Look, the President is talking about a way forward, and rather than getting involved in trying to assess a description of a plan that has yet to be released publicly and, therefore, about which I am not in a position to characterize publicly, it seems a little silly for me to start quibbling about adjectives without discussing what they purportedly describe, don't you think?


Q Well, the President apparently told Gordon Smith and others yesterday that the 20,000 troop increase/surge/escalation is part of the deal. So that's why I'm asking specifically about -- we are going to see some kind of increase.


MR. SNOW: Rather than looking for a one-word handle, look at the policy. And, actually, this is your challenge -- you guys do words for a living; figure out -- rather than trying to ask Democratic or even Republican lawmakers what the proper descriptive term is, you figure it out. I mean, you're going to have an opportunity --


Q I'm trying to, but that's what --


MR. SNOW: Yes, but what you're doing is you're listening to what other people are saying and saying, is that the right one? Well, I can't help you on that.


Q Yes, that's exactly what I'm doing --


MR. SNOW: Can't help you on that one.


Q -- I'm listening to other people describe it, and I'm asking the administration, what's the proper word?


MR. SNOW: I understand. But what we will say is, look at it, then we'll talk.


Q Do you have a problem with the word "escalation"?


MR. SNOW: As I said, look at it, we'll talk.

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  • 3 years later...
Guest The White House

This evening at 8 p.m. EDT, I will address the nation from the Oval Office about the end of the war in Iraq.


We are at a truly historic moment in our nation’s history. After more than seven years, our combat mission in Iraq will end tomorrow.


As both a candidate and President, I promised to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. Now, we are taking an important step forward in delivering on that promise. Since I took office, we’ve brought nearly 100,000 U.S. troops home from Iraq, millions of pieces of equipment have been removed, and hundreds of bases have been closed or transferred to Iraqi Security Forces.


Our combat mission in Iraq is ending, but our commitment to an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant continues. As our mission in Iraq changes, 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces as they assume full responsibility for the security of their country on September 1. We will forge a strong partnership with an Iraq that still faces enduring challenges.


For nearly a decade, we have been a nation at war. The war in Iraq has at times divided us. But one thing I think all Americans can agree on is that our brave men and women in uniform are truly America’s finest. They have put their lives on the line and endured long separations from their family and loved ones.


All Americans owe our troops, veterans and military families a debt of gratitude for their outstanding service to our nation. Over the past few days, thousands of Americans have taken part in our Saluting Service in Iraq effort on WhiteHouse.gov, sending their messages of thanks and support to our troops.


Supporting our troops and military families is the responsibility of all Americans. My Administration is doing everything in its power to ensure that our troops, veterans and their families have the support they need as they serve, and the care and opportunities they need to realize their dreams when they return home.


I hope you will join me in welcoming our troops home and showing your gratitude for their heroic service.




President Barack Obama

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Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the End of Combat Operations in Iraq

Oval Office

August 31, 2010


8:00 P.M. EDT


THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home.


I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans. We’ve now been through nearly a decade of war. We’ve endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we’re trying to build for our nation -- a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity -- may seem beyond our reach.


But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.


From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.


These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I am incredibly proud of their service. And like all Americans, I’m awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.


The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians -- and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people -- Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.


So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq’s Security Forces and support its government and people.


That’s what we’ve done. We’ve removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We’ve closed or transferred to the Iraqis hundreds of bases. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.


This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens. Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al Qaeda, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.


This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election. Tonight, I encourage Iraq’s leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: The Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.


Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisors -- are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. That’s a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.


This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq -- one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.


Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest -- it’s in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We’ve persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -- a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.


As we do, I’m mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it’s time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hopes for Iraqis’ future.


The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.


Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders -- and hundreds of al Qaeda’s extremist allies -- have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I’ve ordered the deployment of additional troops who -- under the command of General David Petraeus -- are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum.


As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we can’t do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we’re training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: This transition will begin -- because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.


Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power -- including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example -- to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that’s based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes -- a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibilities of our time.


Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners. New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas. A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict. As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction -- we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.


Now, that effort must begin within our own borders. Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its links to our own liberty and security. But we have also understood that our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.


Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.


And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it’s our turn. Now, it’s our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for -- the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.


Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.


Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor. As long as I am President, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and we will do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That’s why we’ve already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We’re treating the signature wounds of today’s wars -- post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury -- while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned. And we’re funding a Post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education. Just as the GI Bill helped those who fought World War II -- including my grandfather -- become the backbone of our middle class, so today’s servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy. Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.


Two weeks ago, America’s final combat brigade in Iraq -- the Army’s Fourth Stryker Brigade -- journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.


Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband’s embrace or a mother’s kiss. Most painfully, since the war began, 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice -- part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”


Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations -- war -- and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.


In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation. Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar -- Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own. Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.


Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her.

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  • 8 months later...
Guest American4Progress

In 2008, American and Iraqi officials agreed that the United States would withdraw all of its military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Shortly after taking office, President Obama announced the withdrawal of all "combat brigades." Today, 46,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, down from the peak force of 171,000 in 2003. However, last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. is "willing" to stay beyond the year's end deadline and nudged Iraqis to make a decision soon. "If folks here are going to want us to have a presence," Gates said on his last visit to Iraq as Defense Secretary, "we're going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning." Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen echoed that sentiment two weeks later, saying the Iraqis had to make a decision "within weeks." Yet, the Washington Post reported last week that Mullen's demand "will not be met," thus "complicating plans for the U.S. military withdrawal." While debate in the U.S. about whether American troops should remain in Iraq beyond the full pullout deadline has been scant, Iraqis are currently engaged in a domestic political battle over whether to invite the Americans to stay.


WHAT WILL SADR DO?: While those arguing for a continued U.S. presence usually cite some security fear that is either baseless, unverifiable or impossible to quantify, the influence of Iraqi political leader and Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is a key factor in whether American troops stay and what effect it will have on Iraq if they do. Sadr's base of support is wide both in Parliament and among ordinary Iraqis, and he has made it very clear that he wants the U.S. military to leave Iraq as scheduled. "If the Americans don't leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army," Sadr said in a statement last month referring to his militia of supporters. Sadr not only has the power to mobilize supporters, but he also has political clout, as CAP's Larry Korb recently noted. "If US troops remain, violence against Americans may increase and [Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki's government will likely collapse," Korb wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed last month, adding that Sadr, "whose support was critical to Maliki's success in forming a government even though he finished second in the elections, will likely withdraw his support from Maliki if he renegotiates the agreement." Maliki reportedly said that if a majority of Iraq's political blocs support a continued U.S. presence, then Sadr "should abandon plans for renewed violence and fall in line." And while Sadr last week "employed some of his strongest language yet against a U.S. troop extension," the Post reported that he "hinted for the first time that he might not necessarily renew armed resistance." Sadr said, "The matter of the lifting of the freezing of the Mahdi Army is connected to the public and political agreement among Iraqis."


THE COSTS OF STAYING: Nearly 4,500 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq since the war began in 2003, and despite the limited American role there now, U.S. troops are still dying in combat related situations -- 22 so far this year. Since Osama bin Laden's death, news reports have pointed to various analyses showing that the United States has spent trillions of dollars fighting wars and swelling the nation's security apparatus because of the former al Qaeda leader, stayi ng in Iraq will only continue to add to that debt. The U.S. spent $50 billion on the war in Iraq this year, and the Obama administration has requested nearly $20 billion for FY2012. Moreover, it's unclear what purpose a continued U.S. presence would serve. As Korb wrote, "the Iraqi security forces do not need us. They already outnumber the remaining insurgents, and their counterterrorism units are first-rate. Although they are not yet ready to repel an invasion by a foreign government, there is little likeli hood of that happening."


NEOCONS CAN'T QUIT IRAQ: Those leading the charge for the Iraq war in 2002-2003 are now steering the chorus calling on America to stay. Gates' suggestion last month that the U.S. would be willing to stay brought some neoconervatives out of the woodwork, who -- with the support of some members of Congress -- are now warning about the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal and calling for tens of thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely. "Twenty thousand soldiers would be enough for the next several years," Fred and Kim Kagan wrote last month, and the Council on Foreign Relations' Max Boot agreed that that "would seem to be the minimum necessary to ensure Iraq’s continued progress." The Weekly Standard's Thomas Donnelly wrote last week that it might be useful for Iraqi politicians to have the U.S. around to do it's "dirty work" in countering Sadr's influence.

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