Seven years ago, President George W. Bush spoke to the American people from the Oval Office, announcing the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On Tuesday of last week, President Barack Obama, sitting at the same desk, declared the end of that same military operation: “I am announcing the American combat mission in Iraq, has ended.”
Lauding the men and women of the Armed Forces for serving with “courage and resolve,” Obama went on to say, “The Americans who had served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that terrorized its people.”
According to Obama, nearly a hundred thousand American troops have been removed from Iraq, as well as millions of pieces of equipment.
Hundreds of bases have been closed or transferred to the hands of the Iraqi government. He continued, “this completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security.” The President went on to credit the Iraqis for holding credible elections this past year, allowing a foundation for an “inclusive government that is just, representative and accountable to the Iraqi people.”
Obama promised that although the “combat mission is ending, our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” Not all troops will be leaving Iraq; a “transitional force” will remain to guide and advise the Iraqi military in the counter-terrorism movement.
Sticking to his campaign promise, Obama pledged that all U.S. troops would be removed by the end of next year. Putting faith in the Iraqi people to be able to succeed on their own, Obama claimed the American role in Iraq will be to “provide support for the Iraqi people, as both a friend, and a partner.”
The speech turned to the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Al Qaida, which Obama claimed to be the most essential challenge to American security, is currently operating in the border regions between the war-torn country and Pakistan.
Obama promised to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida.” He went on to say because of the retreat from Iraq, supplies and resources are now available “to go on offense.”
Under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, additional troops have been deployed for a limited time in Afghanistan “to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity, and secure their own future.”
Obama also spoke of a transition of power to the Afghans from the American military presence.
In an important summarizing quote, Obama said, “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.”
He also instilled hope for the new state of Iraq, saying, “Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.”
It’s time to turn the page on one of the most important chapters of American history.