Wednesday, August 18, 2010

President Obama says combat operations ending in Iraq

by Joel Wendland

In an e-mail this afternoon, President Obama said that combat operations in Iraq are ending this month:

Shortly after taking office, I put forward a plan to end the war in Iraq responsibly. Today, I'm pleased to report that – thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians in Iraq – our combat mission will end this month, and we will complete a substantial drawdown of our troops.

Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.

He went on to tout numerous legislative and administrative changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs to support hundreds of thousands of returning war vets and millions of others as well:

Part of ending a war responsibly is meeting our responsibility to the men and women who have fought it. Our troops and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation safe and secure, and as a nation we have a moral obligation to serve our veterans as well as they have served us.

That's why we're building a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs. We've made one of the largest percentage increase in the VA’s budget in 30 years, and we're dramatically increasing funding for veterans' health across the board. In particular, we're delivering unprecedented resources to treat signature wounds of today's wars—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Our sacred trust to take care of our veterans goes beyond simply healing the wounds incurred in battle. We must ensure that when our veterans leave the Armed Forces, they have the opportunities they need to further their education and support their families. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some 300,000 veterans and families members have pursued a college degree. Others are taking advantage of job training and placement programs.

Despite serious concerns that top military brass would push for ongoing combat operations and endless occupation, these events signal an important victory for the hard work of the peace movement. While we weren't able to stop the war before it started and the human and economic costs of the war for both Iraqis and Americans is unbearable, we shouldn't be afraid to claim this victory. It is an important reminder that despite enormous obstacles meaningful change can be won with the right kind of social movement – a broad coalition of social forces – demanding the change we need.

It also makes abundantly clear the decisive importance of a broad approach to elections as a McCain victory would almost certainly have led to dramatically different events in this regard.

I think this victory shows that an end to the Afghanistan quagmire can be fought for and won as well.

The biggest challenge will be the fight to win the sort of structural, cultural and ideological changes need to make wars like these unthinkable in the future.

[Update]: On the Iraq troop withdrawal, it is important to know that their is a huge difference between combat and non-combat troops, being a former U.S. Army infantryperson. But, the important fact remains that a U.S. military presence creates an unstable, at best, Iraqi sovereignty. Because it keeps U.S. troops in harm's way, escalation remains a potentiality. Therefore, ongoing agitation for keeping the promise for full withdrawal in 2011 is still an important task.

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