A key pillar of President Obama's campaign for the White House was the winding down of U.S. involvement in Iraq. On Tuesday, he will announce combat is over for American troops, yet the mission there is far from over. Click the red tabs to see expert commentary, background links and NewsHour video related to the speech. This text is as prepared for delivery and released by the White House.
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 have now been through nearly a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we are 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 those shifting tides. At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am 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 is what we have done. We have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We have closed or transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis. 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 counter-terrorism 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. And that is 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 interests, 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 is 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 have 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 is time to turn the page.
As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is 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 could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have 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 hope for Iraq’s 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 region 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 have 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 cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, 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 is 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 possibility 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.
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 link 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 have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over 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 is our turn. Now, it is 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 do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That is why we have already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We are treating the signature wounds of today’s wars post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned. And we are 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 their 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 fifty-five 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.
David Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times and a regular commentator on the PBS NewsHour.
David Chalian is the political editor for the PBS NewsHour.
Feisal Istrabadi is the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University and former deputy permanent representative of Iraq to the U.N.
Marina Ottaway is the director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Trudy Rubin writes a foreign affairs column for The Philadelphia Inquirer and is a member of The Inquirer’s editorial board.
Daniel Serwer is a professorial lecturer, visiting scholar and senior fellow in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Mark Shields is a syndicated columnist and a regular commentator for the PBS NewsHour.
Richard Norton Smith is a presidential historian and former head of six presidential libraries.
This is perhaps the most confused speech President Obama has delivered. It is a speech which is uncertain whether it is one about foreign policy and the “conclusion” of a war—and for that matter it is uncertain about which war is its object—or whether it is about domestic policy. It reflects the views of a man with fundamentally no demonstrated prior interest in foreign policy.
Thus there is no attempt to argue that the United States has achieved any strategic objective in Iraq. Indeed, in 2002, State Senator Obama argued that the United States had no strategic interest impelling it to go to war in Iraq, and he seems as certain that it has none now in 2010. This rather myopic view ignores that the very presence of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq has created a vital strategic interest, even were one to assume that there was no prior such interest. From the second sentence of the speech on, the message is that the United States cannot afford the war, not that a strategic objective has been met allowing the United States honorably to withdraw its troops.
A president’s speech from the Oval Office isn’t what it was 30 years ago. The power of the bully pulpit has diminished. Thirty years ago the president had three networks who had 90 percent of the audience, there wasn’t the Internet. He had a virtual monopoly.
The president is trying to talk over the conversation that is going on in the room while he’s speaking. That was not the case when John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan were president.
It’s a function of technology and the fact that more people are capable of making their voices heard. The story of the Oval Office speech is as much about immediate reaction as what the president himself has said. I think the power of these speeches has diminished – the audience is diminished and the impact is diminished. The conversation has gotten out of his control.
A difficult, complicated speech without a clear message. He successfully avoided claiming victory and adopting a triumphalist tone, but being unable to proclaim victory he ended by delivering an uncertain message. He points at problems and a long slog ahead. The speech will not satisfy critics unhappy about the withdrawal of combat troops. It will not help inspire or renew confidence.
It would have been strange if Mr. Obama had not done anything to mark the withdrawal of combat troops. It was difficult to do so without slipping into triumphalism, which would have been inappropriate since there is no way in which he could convince people the U.S. is withdrawing combat troops because the war is won. But he goes to the opposite extreme and delivers a downbeat speech.
“Lasting peace” cannot be built on an illusion. The U.S. faces genuine enemies who have attempted to frustrate U.S. interests in Iraq. Some of these enemies are State, others non-State, actors, including but not limited to Iran and al-Qaida. To the extent that these malefactors will have outlasted the U.S. in Iraq, it is difficult to see how lasting peace is achieved by this policy. Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of imagining that the U.S. will have to send troops in again to Iraq in another 10 or 15 years to deal with unfinished business, just as it did in 2003 after the 1991 Gulf War.
This theme of uncertainty prevails throughout the speech -- the moment is difficult and while there is hope there is also a lot of work required...
This central theme is a hard one to make when it is based on the end of combat missions in Iraq. Sadly, that milestone, bought at such a high cost, and leading to such an uncertain future, is unlikely to boost American morale or convince other nations of America's competence and strength.
Confidence and commitment always appeal, but weren’t they what mistakenly got us into Iraq in the first place?
He does not sound convinced himself.
On Tuesday's NewsHour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields said that President Obama made a campaign promise that he would end combat operations in Iraq, and that "he meets that promise tonight, at least in literal terms." However, he points out there are still many noncombat troops, contractors and others in Iraq. "But as far as formal combat operations, they’re ending."
Obama is in a strange position with this speech. He can't directly criticize the decision to wage the war, or its mismanagement prior to 2007, because that would undercut his praise for the troops and call into question the wisdom of any long-term commitment to an alliance with Iraq. Nor does he mention, here or later, the strategic damage done by the war, especially in strengthening Iran. These unvisited issues shadow the speech.
Praise for the military is the most positive note in the entire speech, both here and at the end of the speech. But even in relation to the military, Obama is forced later to acknowledge shortcomings in the government’s commitment to take care of veterans.
The main and only clear theme of this speech seems to be praise for the troops. It seems that when it comes to Iraq, even today, this is the only point on which Democrats and Republicans can fully agree.
He paid great praise to the troops [...] that’s the one unifying factor in this whole war. Left, right, pro-war, anti-war, we agree on the troops. [...] I think it’s a direct result of what happened in Vietnam, when troops returned and were treated with indifference and disrespect.
One cannot help but remember President Bush’s announcement in May 2003 that major combat operations had ended. Clearly the U.S. can declare that it is no longer willing to fight and sacrifice in Iraq. But it obviously cannot force those who would frustrate U.S. interests in Iraq from continuing the fight.
Whatever else may be said, it’s clear that at least part of Barack Obama’s historical mission is to be the president who extracted us from a combat role in the Middle East.
The speech was all about threading the needle. It was a very muted speech in a number of ways. The president had been a strong critic of the war and opponent of the surge. And I thought, every president wants to talk about peace and prosperity. This president found himself talking about if not peace and prosperity, something less than that.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this arbitrary date for the withdrawal of combat troops is more related to a campaign promise fulfilled in anticipation of the November 2010 mid-term elections, rather than events on the grounds. To that extent, the policy underlying the speech is reckless. It amounts to an abandonment of Iraq to its fate, at a time when Iran’s influence has grown exponentially there, and as Iran is poised to challenge U.S. interests in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region.
Here’s the main message on Iraq: promise fulfilled. Will anyone notice? They would had it not been! Slam dunk, but only two points.
This is his personal victory: he made a promise and kept it.
“[S]ecurity incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began." This phrase is Rumsfeldian in its disconnect from reality. Iraq’s official numbers show that nearly 550 people were killed in July 2010. Moreover, terrorist attacks in Baghdad are no longer of the “soft target” variety. Over the past 12 months, they have targeted the governmental infrastructure of the State: Ministry buildings, army and police recruiting stations, and so on. They have become far more spectacular and successful, and they have corresponded with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the city.
This is a gamble. Is considerable skill enough? And what happens if it isn’t?
This is surprisingly weak and in the end sounds defensive. Obama is trying to respond to the criticism that he is pulling out of the fight while Iraq is still besieged. But he fails to make a strong argument that Iraqis are capable of taking over.
Right message: you want help, get your act together. Oh how he and Biden wish [the Iraqis] had done it before tonight! That might have been a three-pointer.
He plays down the incapacity of Iraqi leaders to make the compromises necessary to form a government. He has to play it down not to offend the Iraqi leadership, but as a result he glosses over a major problem.
“Supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions” is new, or at least omitted elsewhere. Not surprising, but these few words may mean a lot of action.
Why does he keep saying “U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of next year”? He knows the Iraqis will need a lot of help, especially with their navy and air force, after 2011. Would we really say no if they ask?
This last point is a technical foul: the civilians moved into the lead on those issues years ago, and now they are drawing down almost as fast as the military.
A reminder to critics who argue that the U.S. should not pull all troops out of Iraq, that the withdrawal is not optional but mandated by an agreement with the government of Iraq. He misses an opportunity to remind listeners that the agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration.
“Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders.” Here is a clear statement of the intent of the United States to abandon the promotion of democracy as a foreign policy objective, something President Obama has hinted at before, including in his Cairo speech.
Although President Obama refers to a "long-term partnership," he doesn't spell out why this is desirable, or worth the commitment of more resources. If he truly seeks such a partnership it is important for him to spell out its strategic value and make that clear to the public. That isn't really made clear here. Nor is there any mention of any moral responsibility to stand by Iraq until it is more stable, given the tremendous physical and societal destruction set in motion by the war, the tens, or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, and the millions of Iraqi refugees.
Good, but vague. No points.
“Now, it is time to turn the page.” This statement strikes me as astoundingly cavalier. Again, the U.S. is not ending the war—only its commitment in that war. To those who wish to continue the fight against the new order in Iraq, or those such as Iran and Syria who wish to see Iraq perpetually weak, the U.S. withdrawal will serve only as encouragement for them to continue to disrupt the attempt to secure the peace.
From here on, the speech is a litany of the difficult problems the U.S. is facing. De facto, he is admitting that the U.S. had to get of Iraq in order to face other problems at home and in Afghanistan.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used the phrase "turn the page" when he was out on the stump rallying his supporters to reject many of the policies and much of the politics of the Bush administration. Most specifically, Mr. Obama rode an anti-Iraq war fervor to victory in his battle for the Democratic presidential nomination as he used his opposition to the Iraq war as a "turn the page" calling card.
In the Oval Office tonight, President Obama put the phrase to use in a dramatically different context. Addressing the nation from the very same desk where President Bush informed the country the war had begun, President Obama declared that the United States has met its responsibilities in Iraq and it is time to "turn the page."
The president also made sure to move from an anti-war candidate to a commander-in-chief winding down one war and escalating another when he spoke of his conversation earlier today with President George W. Bush and acknowledged their differences on Iraq. Here, too, he urged a turning of the page away from the former political divisions over Iraq.
A good try at healing wounds. Two points, off the backboard.
He not only wanted to turn the page on Iraq, but turn the page on Afghanistan and he wants to turn the page on the economy.
It was a reboot speech. I thought it had nice grace notes, referring to his conversation with President Bush. But you know five minutes later he pointed out that by spending a trillion dollars on this war he had derailed our own economy.
I truly fail to understand the wisdom of fighting a war on an announced withdrawal table.
The references to Afghanistan don't clarify our goals there. And although the president says the pace of troop reductions in 2011 will be "determined by conditions on the ground" the emphasis of the remarks is still on withdrawal, although it is likely that conditions will force this withdrawal to be slow.
So clear about al-Qaida, so unclear about what Afghanistan is supposed to look like as we leave!
Tuesday night on the NewsHour, David Brooks said that President Obama did not settle in this speech the internal argument his administration is having over the pace of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. "He dodged that issue. He did not settle or tip his hand in any way in that dispute."
His attempts to move from bad to good news sound unconvincing. The good news is vague at best.
'More hard work ahead' is the theme from here on.
The president has made his expected segue into the need to focus on domestic issues, but there is little detail here, and as the speech indicates, he is still committed to expensive ventures abroad dictated by security needs and past commitments, ventures for which he seems unwilling or unable to make a passionate case to the American public.
He wants you to know he knows what you know he should be doing.
President Obama used a portion of his Iraq speech Tuesday night to focus on the economy. It would have been quite difficult to address the nation from the Oval Office without mentioning the dominant issue on the minds of most Americans. Interestingly, he tied his economic remarks to Iraq by painting the weak economy as an enemy combatant in the war here at home.
He attempted to appeal to the sense of unity Americans display in support of the troops on the battlefield abroad as a much needed resource in the domestic battle against the recession.
As he announced the end of combat operations in Iraq, President Obama suggested there are two wars left on his desk to manage. The one in Afghanistan and the one taking place in communities across the United States against high unemployment.
During his campaign for the presidency, then-Senator Obama often critiqued President Bush for taking his eye off the ball in Afghanistan by sending American forces into Iraq. Tonight, the president was attempting to keep his eye on the ball with regard to the economy while still marking the fulfillment of his most prominent campaign pledge.
The president had to come back to the economy at the end of the speech, Shields said. "This political war at home [...] is about the economy, it really is," he said, adding that some Democrats were grumbling about "why are we doing this speech, here goes another week without economy."
Little comfort should be taken in the last sentence, for it may betoken no more than Sun Tzu’s aphorism, “Do not interfere with an army that is returning home."
Who is it who is supposed to have “surrendered” here? There is no argument made of any victory by the United States—again, no argument about any strategic success. To my ear, at least, this sounds like the speech of a defeated commander, not one who is making a claim of any victory.
"Our troops are the steel in our ship of state"-- Best line in the speech, but I do wish our diplomacy were as strong.
Just stylistically, I think there’s been a deterioration in the quality of Obama’s speeches -- the literary quality.
There’s a lot of phrases here that you're not quite sure what they meant: "We must give our children the education they deserve; we must jump start industries; we must unleash innovation; our troops are the steel in our ship of state."
These are normal political metaphors, but they’re not the fresh, high literary quality that I think Obama had a year or two ago.
Not his best day, but not his worst either.