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Obama Speaks To Nation On Iraq

Iraqi Child Labour

From GorillasGuides Child Labour In Baghdad Photo Essay, used with permission

Tonight, President Obama addresses the nation to mark the “official end to combat operations in Iraq.”

David Dayen at FDL News previewed the speech earlier today by noting the following:

In remarks at Fort Bliss today, the President gave a rough outline of his remarks tonight about Iraq.

I’m going to make a speech to the nation tonight. It’s not going to be a victory lap. It’s not going to be self-congratulatory. There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us. But the fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done, and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself, and America is more secure […]

The other thing that I’m going to talk about this evening is the fact that we obviously still have a very tough fight in Afghanistan. And a lot of families have been touched by the way in Iraq. A lot of families are now being touched in Afghanistan. We’ve seen casualties go up because we’re taking the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies.

It is going to be a tough slog, but what I know is that after 9/11, this country was unified in saying we are not going to let something like that happen again. And we are going to go after those who perpetrated that crime, and we are going to make sure that they do not have safe haven.

There you have it. Promise kept, thanks to the military, moving on to Afghanistan. Closing a chapter without celebrating closing the book.

And went on to say:

There is literally no limit to the costs, both physical and strategic, to fighting in Iraq. But even that is a selfish view. The costs to the Iraqi people have been even more immeasurable. An honest President would deliver the kind of speech Juan Cole wrote for this evening:

Fellow Americans, and Iraqis who are watching this speech, I have come here this evening not to declare a victory or to mourn a defeat on the battlefield, but to apologize from the bottom of my heart for a series of illegal actions and grossly incompetent policies pursued by the government of the United States of America, in defiance of domestic US law, international treaty obligations, and both American and Iraqi public opinion.

The young boy from Baghdad at the top of this page will not be listening to Obama’s speech tonight and perhaps that’s just as well since from the pre-speech briefing the White House provided for bloggers earlier today, it did not sound as if much tonight would speak to this child, who has lost his home and now works on the streets of Baghdad so he can eat.

During that briefing, what we did hear repeatedly was that President Obama has withdrawn 100,000 US troops from Iraq. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes noted the 100,000 number as a sign that Obama had “kept his campaign promise” and commented on the shift to an “Iraqi lead” in operations. Along with troops, he mentioned that Intel resources are now being freed up for Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda “elsewhere” but would not specify that “elsewhere” beyond references to “Somalia, Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia.” As David said, “moving on.”

In pre-released excerpts, the President will say:

“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.”

I wonder what the young boy above would say to that.

Click through to follow the liveblog of the speech.

Obama opens with:

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.

and speaks of the sacrifice of our troops:

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.

and announces the combat mission ended.

Next up is the emphasis on Iraq taking over the effort and a mention of the Iraqi elections with a call for the Iraqis to form a government. “Our combat mission is ending but our comittment to Iraq is not.”

On the residual forces – no numbers given, he says:

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.

and then continues to speak of our sacrifice for Iraq.

And now we move on –

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.

Obama shifts to tough talk to Al Qaeda and says we will “go on offense” with AQ leaders killed or captured around the world. (I think he means our illegal targeted killings but I guess that’s a good thing in the Obama view)

And speaking of Afghanistan, Obama backs away from his 2011 deadline for the beginning of withdrawal from there saying:

The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.

Obama now shifts to the cost to us at home – again stressing our sacrifice, never the Iraqis:

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.

And pivots to what is likely his forthcoming Labor Day push to position democrats as the party that will deal with our bad economy.

And finishes up returning to the sacrifice of US troops, again never mentioning the cost to the Iraqi mothers, fathers and children but instead presenting the Iraq war as some gift to Iraq:

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.

With a final no victory but aren’t we grand:

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.

How very far indeed are these words from the reality of Iraq – ignoring the pre-emptive nature of the war, the deaths of 1,000,000 Iraqis and the devastation left behind.

For shame.

And in all the celebratory chatter on tv, remember we have 50,000 troops still in Iraq and untold numbers of contractors. We have not left.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com