by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Pat Garofalo
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On Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, President Obama announced a firm date for the end of the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," he declared. A transitional force of between 30-50,000 troops would remain in Iraq temporarily. "Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments," he explained, "and under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011." Obama said that the removal of U.S. forces should make clear that "Iraq's future is now its own responsibility. The long-term success of the Iraqi nation will depend upon decisions made by Iraq's leaders and the fortitude of the Iraqi people." Soldiers at Camp Lejeune, NC, where the president made the announcement, voiced support for the withdrawal. In Iraq, Pvt. John R. Brown spoke for many Americans when he told the New York Times, "I thought the war would go on and on. ... I thought it would never end."
THE COSTS OF A MISBEGOTTEN WAR: The United States began the Iraq war in 2003 under the pretext of disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons that he did not possess, and out of fear of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship that did not exist. The United States remained in Iraq as an occupying force, struggling to rebuild an Iraqi state with no clear strategy, unclear goals, and little understanding of the violent forces that would be unleashed and enabled by incompetent American political leadership. "The number of casualties among Iraqis is disputed but most counts put the military and civilian death toll at about 100,000," with far more wounded and more than four million displaced from their homes. Economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have calculated that the war will ultimately cost the U.S. over $3 trillion. Since 2003, over 4,200 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 30,000 wounded. Stressing America's "commitment to uphold our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served in Iraq," the President promised to "raise military pay, and continue providing quality child-care, job-training for spouses, and expanded counseling and outreach to families that have known the separation and stress of war."
REGIONAL FOCUS: The U.S.'s relationship with Iraq will not end with the withdrawal of troops. Continued diplomatic and development support will be essential to help facilitate political accommodation and economic growth. "As the U.S. troop presence declines, the need for greater third-party engagement with Iraq's internal tensions and conflicts will increase," wrote Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis, "particularly along tense fault lines like the Arab-Kurdish divide in northern Iraq." Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has called for a "diplomatic surge" to "help broker national reconciliation efforts in Iraq and ensure that Iraq's neighbors are properly invested in its future." Effective regional diplomacy will recognize that many of the key challenges in the Middle East -- Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- are interlinked. "Every issue in the Middle East is kind of connected to other issues," Lee Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Middle East Progress last month. "Progress in any area will have positive spillovers in other areas. If Iraq settles down, that removes a real irritant in the region. If you made progress in Iran on the nuclear question it would have a huge impact with regard to Israel, greatly increasing the security of Israel, and relieving the Israelis of their major security concern. ... Progress anywhere will enhance the prospects for progress elsewhere."
A PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL SECURITY FRAMEWORK: Speaking of the lessons learned from Iraq, Obama said that "America must go to war with clearly defined goals, which is why I've ordered a review of our policy in Afghanistan. ... We have learned that in the 21st century, we must use all elements of American power to achieve our objectives, which is why I am committed to building our civilian national security capacity so that the burden is not continually pushed on to our military." In mid-February, Obama announced the addition of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. Importantly, however, the president also said that he was "absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means. ... We're going to have to use diplomacy. We're going to have to use development." Utilizing America's full range of powers has been a central element of the national security policies promoted by the Center for American Progress.