This afternoon President Obama announced that at the end of this year, America will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq.
Obama began his campaign for president by forcefully, clearly promising to end that war. This afternoon he delivered on that promise.
The timing of his announcement could not have been more symbolically powerful. It comes just a day after the successful conclusion of the operation in Libya -- an operation that stands in stark contrast to the disastrous War in Iraq.
The War in Iraq was the product of "bull in the china closet" Neo-Con unilateralism. The war cost a trillion dollars. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that after all of the indirect costs to our economy are in -- including the care of the over 33,000 wounded and disabled -- its ultimate cost to the American economy will be three times that.
It has cost 4,600 American lives, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It created millions of refugees -- both inside Iraq and those who fled to other countries.
The war decimated America's reputation in the world and legitimated al Qaeda's narrative that the West was involved in a new Crusade to take over Muslim lands. Images of Abu Ghraib created a powerful recruiting poster for terrorists around the world.
The War stretched America's military power and weakened our ability to respond to potential threats. It diverted resources from the War in Afghanistan. It empowered Iran.
The War in Iraq not only destroyed America's reputation, but also American credibility. Who can forget the embarrassing image of General Colin Powell testifying before the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. had incontrovertible evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?
Contrast that to yesterday's conclusion of the successful operation in Libya. That operation is emblematic of an entirely different approach.
Since he took office, Obama has fundamentally reshaped American foreign policy. In place of "bull in the china closet" unilateralism he has initiated a cooperative, multilateral approach to the rest of the world. The fruits of that approach are obvious in the Libyan operation where:
- The Libyans themselves overthrew a dictator;
- America spent a billion dollars -- not a trillion dollars, as we have in Iraq;
- America did not lose one soldier in Libya;
- We accomplished our mission after eight months, not eight years;
- Most importantly, America worked cooperatively with our European allies, the Arab League and the Libyan people to achieve a more democratic Middle East.
Obama's policy toward the Middle East is aimed at helping to empower everyday people in the Muslim world -- it is a policy built on respect, not Neo-Con fantasies of imperial power. And it works.
Last month, I spent several weeks in Europe and met with a number of people from our State Department and other foreign policy experts from Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Everyone tells the same story. Since President Obama took office, support for the United States and its policies has massively increased throughout Europe and much of the world.
The BBC conducts a major poll of world public opinion. In March of this year it released its latest report.
Views of the U.S. continued their overall improvement in 2011, according to the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll of 27 countries around the world.
Of the countries surveyed, 18 hold predominantly positive views of the U.S., seven hold negative views and two are divided. On average, 49 percent of people have positive views of U.S. influence in the world -- up four points from 2010 -- and 31 per cent hold negative views. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.
In 2007 a slight majority (54%) had a negative view of the United States and only close to three in ten (28%) had a positive view....
In other words, positive opinion of the U.S. had increased by 21% since 2007 - it has almost doubled.
Obama understands that in an increasingly democratic world, the opinions of our fellow human beings matter. They affect America's ability to achieve America's goals.
And Obama understands that it matters that young people in the Middle East, who are struggling to create meaningful lives, think of America as a leader they respect, rather than as a power with imperial designs on their land and their lives.
But, at the same time, there is no question that President Obama is not afraid to act -- to take risks to advance American interests. The operation that got Bin Laden was a bold move. It was very well planned -- but not without risks.
Obama is a leader who makes cold, hard calculations about how to achieve his goals. He plans carefully and then doesn't hesitate to act decisively. And as it turns out, he usually succeeds. Ask Bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Gaddafi.
Obama received a good deal of criticism from the Republicans for his operation in Libya. But by taking action, he first prevented Benghazi from becoming another Rwanda -- and then supported a movement that ended the reign of a tyrant who had dominated the Libyan people for 42 years and had personally ordered the destruction of an American airliner.
For the vast number of Americas who ultimately opposed the War in Iraq, today should be at day of celebration. And it is a day of vindication for the courageous public officials who opposed the war from the start. That includes the 60% of House Democrats who voted against the resolution to support Bush's invasion of Iraq.
It is also a day when someone ought to have the decency to tell the Republican chorus of Obama foreign policy critics that it's time to stop embarrassing themselves.
From the first day of the Obama Presidency, former Vice President Dick Cheney has accused President Obama of "dithering" -- "afraid to make a decision" -- of "endangering American security."
Even after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the president for "leading from behind."
You'd think that a guy who two years ago traveled to Libya to meet and make nice with Gaddafi would want to keep a low profile, now that the revolution Obama supported there has been successful at toppling this dictator who ordered the downing of American airliner.
Well, as least Graham isn't saddled with having tweeted fawningly like his fellow traveler, John McCain, who upon visiting Gaddafi wrote: "Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his "ranch" in Libya -- interesting meeting with an interesting man."
Let's face it, with the death of Gaddafi, the knee-jerk Republican critics of his Libya policy basically look like fools:
Mitt Romney in the early months of the effort: "It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle."
Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann: "President Obama's policy of leading from behind is an outrage and people should be outraged at the foolishness of the President's decision" and also asking "what in the world are we doing in Libya if we don't know what our military goal is?"
Of course, the very idea that Dick Cheney is given any credibility at all by the media is really outrageous.
Here is a guy who made some of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes in American history. He has the gall to criticize Obama's clear foreign policy successes? Those successes allowed America to recover much stature and power in the world that were squandered by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Someone needs to ask, what is anyone thinking who takes this guy the least bit seriously?
Someone needs to remind him and his Neo-con friends that:
- The worst attack on American soil took place on their watch;
- They failed to stop Osama bin Laden;
- They began two massive land wars in the Middle East that have drained massive sums from our economy, killed thousands of Americans and wounded tens of thousands of others;
- They underfunded an effort in Afghanistan so they could begin their War in Iraq that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda;
- They brought U.S. credibility in the world to a new low by lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, violating our core human rights principles and acting unilaterally without any concern for the opinions or needs of other nations;
- Through their War in Iraq they legitimated Al Qaeda's narrative that the United States was waging a crusade to take over Muslim lands - and with their policies at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, they created recruiting posters for Al Qaeda that did enormous harm to American security;
- Through their recklessness and incompetence they stretched American military resources and weakened our ability to respond to crises;
- When they left office, American credibility and our support in the world had fallen to new lows.
With a record like this, you'd think they would want to slink off into a closet and hope that people just forget.
But Americans won't forget. History won't forget.
And generations from now, Americans will thank Barack Obama for restoring American leadership -- for once again making our country a leader in the struggle to create a world where war is a relic of the past and everyone on our small planet can aspire to a future full of possibility and hope.
Never miss a thing. Sign up for up-to-the-minute breaking news alerts delivered straight to your inbox. Learn more