Obama's Iraq Speech: Ditch "Mission Accomplished" for "Shared Sacrifice"

08/31/2010 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When President Obama welcomes home combat troops from Iraq, he should lay out the context of their return, the mission for the remaining 50,000 troops and the help they need in transition. Instead of "Mission Accomplished," President Obama should do what was not done when the war began -- call upon all Americans to join in "Shared Sacrifice."

Already we know that the White House has wisely forgone "Mission Accomplished," as well they should. War-weary Americans -- chicken hawks, anti-war doves, and everyone in between -- are beyond impatient for happy talk. Many people yearn instead to be part of something larger than ourselves, something that binds us together rather than tears us (further) apart. What better way for the President to welcome combat troops home than to prevent the argument over history's verdict on the Iraq War from clouding our focus on where we are now, where we are going, and how we can each do our part to get there?

This call for Shared Sacrifice is easier said than done because lost in the fog of war debates --- why there were no WMDs found or why we weren't greeted as liberators or why the Iraq War didn't pay for itself as promised or why our troops didn't get the body armor or planning they deserved or why we didn't build a diplomatic surge as successful as the military surge -- is the fundamental question of why we still find it so hard to separate the war from the warriors and add our sacrifice to theirs. Even though the Iraq War has permeated our popular culture like none before it, we Americans civilians remain as far from military families as ever.

Few of us know what it's like to sacrifice in war because so few of us do: less than 1 percent of Americans -- and less than 3 percent of our draft-age population -- serves today in uniform. Add with their spouses, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and neighbors who have answered the call to service and we're still talking a small fraction of our country.

Though veterans groups from the American Legion to to Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America warn us that this deep civil-military divide is dangerous for the health and future of our democracy, Americans have yet to bridge the divide.

Here's where President Obama can step in.

First, the President should outline the military and diplomatic context of the combat troops return. Wisely forgoing "mission accomplished" with respect to the combat operations, President Obama should describe what it means to keep his word and bring combat troops home -- and what it means for the remaining 50,000 troops in Iraq, what benchmarks will define their mission, and how we'll measure their success.

Second, the President should remind us that America has done more for our veterans and military families in the past four years than in the entire history of the VA, and call each of us to help military families in the near term. The President should discuss the feedback he's received from military families about on-base housing; care for the 1.7 million American children who have at least one parent serving in the military, and the nearly 1 million who have endured multiple deployments by one or both parents; deployment schedules; the toll of war, particularly with respect to lifelong disabilities caused by combat; military recruiting on campuses; the transition from Pentagon to VA; care at veterans' hospitals; National Guard employment discrimination; the increasing abuse, divorce, and alcoholism rates among military families; and, the challenges faced by veterans returning to the civilian job market after war.

Third, the President should encourage all of us to do our part to join our military families in Shared Sacrifice. Economically, that means paying for the wars we wage -- and for the cost of war that include its effects on servicemembers, veterans and military families. It means paying for a transition agenda that includes reducing homelessness among veterans, modernizing the VA claims processing system, streamlining the post-9/11 GI Bill, securing more jobs for our nation's heroes, eliminating combat stress stigma, and supporting better health care for female veterans including resources to those coping with PTSD and military sexual trauma (MST). It also means building a future worthy of their sacrifice here at home, in a way that rebuilds our communities and supports the values and dignity that come with a military career. Simply using the presidential bully pulpit to encourage young people to enter military service and to urge small businesses to hire returning veterans would go a long way to bridging the civilian-military divide.

Candidate Obama promised to bring our combat troops home from Iraq and to build a more perfect union. To keep that promise President Obama should ditch "Mission Accomplished" for "Shared Sacrifice."