Obama ends combat mission in IraqBy Tom Brune
September 1, 2010
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that "it is time to turn the page" as he declared the lengthy and costly U.S. combat mission in Iraq over, adding that "it is not only in Iraq's interest - it is in our own."
With the end of the seven-year Iraq war, Obama vowed to bring the same result to the nearly decade-long fight in Afghanistan starting next year and promised to focus on the top concern of a war-weary public: restoring the economy and putting people to work.
"Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended," Obama said in an 18-minute televised address from the Oval Office.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," he said, adding that America will continue to provide support as "a friend and a partner."
But as he left 50,000 troops and a beefed-up diplomatic and civilian corps behind for training and assistance, Obama implicitly acknowledged there was no clear-cut victory "in an age without surrender ceremonies."
As expected, Obama took credit for fulfilling his promise in his campaign and again last year to withdraw more than 90,000 troops over 19 months. "This was my pledge," he said.
Obama acknowledged his disagreement with President George W. Bush. And he did not give credit to Bush's troop surge that manyRepublicans - including Rep. Pete King of Seaford - insisted was responsible for what success there is in Iraq.
But the president hailed Bush's patriotism and love of troops, and urged Americans to "move beyond our differences."
Obama praised the 1.5 million U.S. men and women in uniform who served in Iraq for their "courage and resolve" and the sacrifices they and their families made. He promised to take care of them.
"The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people," Obama said.
He put the cost at more than 4,400 U.S. lives and $1 trillion - much of it borrowed - which added to the staggering U.S. deficit.
Yet he also signaled that it is time to begin working toward leaving behind the two wars fought on "tight budgets" that he inherited and turning attention to the ailing economy. "We have met our responsibility. Now, it's time to turn the page," Obama said.
"Today, our most urgent task is to restore the economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," he said.
In the short speech, sitting behind a desk in the newly renovated Oval Office in front of a U.S. flag and family photos, Obama in an even and almost dispassionate tone addressed many audiences on Iraq's ambiguities and contradictions.
He sought to encourage Iraqis and warn those who would prey on it by painting a largely positive picture of Iraq.
He nodded to the military and Republicans, saying troop withdrawals from Afghanistan beginning next July will be "determined by conditions on the ground."
But he also reached out to his liberal Democratic base, framing his surge in Afghanistan as a war to contain al-Qaida and break theTaliban, but putting a time limit on it. "Open-ended war," he said, "serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's."