Nearly eight years after he denounced what he called a “dumb war” in Iraq and nearly two years after he won the White House promising to end it, President Obama on Monday plans to mark the formal end of the combat mission there.
By the end of August, in accordance with the strategy Mr. Obama put in place after taking office, the American force in Iraq will have shrunk to just 50,000 troops, from 144,000. The remaining “advise and assist” brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities and mounting counterterrorism operations. Those 50,000 troops are due to leave by the end of 2011.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Mr. Obama says in remarks prepared for delivery Monday to the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta. “Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised, on schedule.”
Mr. Obama’s planned appearance before the veterans group will be the first of several similar events in coming weeks to draw attention to the transition in Iraq. While he has gone months without mentioning the war much in public as he focused on tightening regulation of the financial industry and stopping the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the president is now trying to remind Americans of one of his most important, if largely unheralded decisions.
The high-level public focus on Iraq appears aimed at least in part at blunting some of the growing frustration, particularly among his liberal base, over the war in Afghanistan. The president essentially is arguing to skeptics in the public and in Congress that he is bringing at least one war to a conclusion and can do so with another eventually as well.
A fact sheet prepared by the White House, for instance, pointedly notes that even with his troop buildup in Afghanistan, the drawdown in Iraq means that the total number of uniformed Americans in the two countries will have dropped from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of August.
With Iraq, Mr. Obama has stuck to his withdrawal schedule despite changing conditions on the ground. He promised during the campaign to pull out combat forces within 16 months. But after taking office he extended that to 19 months to give the Iraqis enough time to hold a new election, assemble a fresh government and get through a transition with the security of a robust American force.
Instead, the election that was supposed to be held in December did not take place until March and the vote was so close that Iraqi political leaders are still deadlocked over forming a new government nearly five months later and no resolution is in sight. There are also lingering problems, like a crippled electrical infrastructure that leaves many Iraqis often without power.
Some critics have said Mr. Obama ought to slow the drawdown to make sure insurgents cannot take advantage of the current political confusion.
But White House officials said they believe it is safe to stick to the original timetable because the caretaker government has proved effective at maintaining security despite the political stalemate. Moreover, they note that the 50,000 American troops that will remain constitute a powerful force in their own right, capable of handling various contingencies.
In excerpts of his Georgia speech released by the White House, Mr. Obama hails the improved security in Iraq, without mentioning that he opposed the troop buildup ordered in 2007 by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, that along with a strategy change is credited by many with turning the war around. Mr. Obama has now assigned the leader of that surge, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to take command of the troop buildup in Afghanistan.
“Today, even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress, because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years,” Mr. Obama says in the prepared remarks. But he cautions that the fighting is not over: “There are still those with bombs and bullets who will try to stop Iraq’s progress. The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.”
Mr. Obama plans to use the speech to straddle the longstanding domestic divide over the Iraq war by embracing the accomplishments of American troops. “Our nation has had vigorous debates about the Iraq war,” he says. “There are patriots who supported going to war, and patriots who opposed it. But there has never been any daylight between us when it comes to supporting the more than one million Americans in uniform who have served in Iraq — far more than any conflict since Vietnam.”
R.I.P to all the people who have lost their lives in these miserable wars. If Iraq isn’t left in better condition than when Americans arrived it will seem like the whole effort was in vain. We pray the situation remains stable because it’d be a shame to have to go back — again.
It’s great news that the troops will be making their way home from Iraq, but how long before we can say the same for Afghanistan? Last month casualties hit their highest point in the nine years since American military forces began their fight. History has shown Afghanistan is one of the world’s most difficult places to secure victory. Will this effort prove any different?