'Time to turn the page' on the Iraq war

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Saying it is "time to turn the page" on one of the most divisive chapters in American history, President Obama declared the U.S. war in Iraq over Tuesday night, telling the nation that he was fulfilling his campaign pledge to stop a war he had opposed from the start.

"Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended," Obama said in his second prime-time address from the Oval Office. He heralded his belief "that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization."

In his speech, the president sought to unshackle the nation from a military invasion, begun by his predecessor, that was supposed to swiftly depose a dictator, seize hidden weapons of mass destruction and leave behind a democratic government.

Instead, it dragged on for more than seven years as U.S. troops battled a growing insurgency. The war became a recruiting tool and training ground for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Obama noted the "huge price" the United States paid during the long, wrenching conflict. Over the course of the war, 1.5 million troops served in Iraq, many of them returning for multiple tours. More than 4,400 died, and 32,000 were wounded.

The demands of the war stretched the limits of American military readiness, and its $740 billion cost far outpaced the original estimates.

After making the case in his remarks for withdrawing combat troops, Obama quickly pivoted to his other priorities. He said resources could now shift to the war in Afghanistan and to boosting the economy, which he labeled "our most urgent task."

Before his speech, Obama called former president George W. Bush, whose legacy is largely defined by the invasion and its controversial underpinnings. Aides would not say what the two presidents discussed, or whether Obama gave Bush credit for his decision, as sectarian divisions exploded and the war dragged on, to order the 2007 troop surge that led to a reduction in violence.

In his remarks, Obama invoked Bush, noting that his predecessor sat behind the same desk in announcing the war seven years earlier. He said much had "changed since that night."

Obama used the moment to draw a lesson of bipartisanship. "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," he said. ". . . 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."

A divided America

It was the contested grounds for the 2003 invasion that made it the most polarizing conflict since Vietnam. The Bush administration insisted that Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, had stockpiled a lethal arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and that he posed a threat to the United States and its allies. But those claims were based on questionable intelligence, and no such weapons were ever found. The bitter national argument over whether Bush had misled the country into war divided Americans and strained the country's relationship with the world - ultimately setting the stage for Obama to ascend to the presidency.

Obama, who traveled to Fort Bliss earlier Tuesday to meet with veterans, paid tribute to the military, saying he is "awed by their sacrifice."

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