Full Text Obama Presidency September 1, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address Marks the Anniversary of the End of the Iraq War — Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Obama’s Weekly Address: Marking the Anniversary of the End of the Iraq War

Source: ABC News Radio, 9-1-12

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Two years after he ended the combat mission in Iraq, President Obama is touting his plan to bring troops home from Afghanistan, saying it’s time to “do some nation-building here at home.”

In his weekly address, the president congratulated troops for a “job well done” in Iraq but noted “there is still difficult work ahead of us in Afghanistan.”

“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead.  Next month, the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete,” he said in remarks taped at Fort Bliss in Texas, where Obama addressed troops Friday….READ MORE

Weekly Address: Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

Source: WH, 9-1-12
President Obama marks the second anniversary of the end of our combat mission in Iraq by thanking our nation’s extraordinary men and women in uniform for their service.

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

Weekly Address: Honoring Our Nation’s Service Members and Military Families

Hi, everybody.  On Friday, I visited Fort Bliss in Texas, where I met with some of our extraordinary men and women in uniform to mark the second anniversary of the end of major combat in Iraq.

It was a chance to thank our troops for the outstanding work they’ve done over the last decade.  Fort Bliss is home to soldiers who took part in every major phase of the Iraq War – from the initial assault on Baghdad; to the years of fighting block by block; to the partnership with the Iraqi people that helped give them a chance to forge their own destiny.

And while the war itself remains a source of controversy here at home, one thing will never be in doubt – the members of our armed forces are patriots in every sense of the word.  They met every mission and performed every task that was asked of them with precision, commitment and skill.  And now, with no Americans fighting in Iraq, it’s my privilege on behalf of a grateful nation to once again congratulate these men and women on a job well done.

This anniversary is a chance to appreciate how far we’ve come.  But it’s also a reminder that there is still difficult work ahead of us in Afghanistan.  Some of the soldiers I met at Fort Bliss had just come home from the battlefield, and others are getting ready to ship out.

We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead.  Next month, the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete.

But as long as we have a single American in harm’s way, we will continue to do everything in our power to keep them safe and help them succeed.  That means giving them a clear mission and the equipment they need on the front lines.  But it also means taking care of our veterans and their families.  Because no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

I also told our soldiers at Bliss that part of honoring their service means strengthening the nation they fought so hard to protect.  As we turn the page on a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home.

My grandfather’s generation came back from World War II and helped form the backbone of the greatest middle-class in history.  They helped this country come back stronger than before.  Today’s veterans have the skills, the discipline, and the leadership skills to do the exact same thing – and it’s our job to give them that chance.

It’s time to build a nation that lives up to the ideals that so many Americans have fought for – a nation where they can realize the dream they sacrificed to protect.  We need to rebuild our roads and runways and ports.  We need to lay broadband lines across this country and put our veterans back to work as cops and firefighters in communities that need them.  And we need to come together to make America a place where hard work is rewarded and anyone willing to put in the effort can make it if they try.

That’s how we can honor our troops.  That’s the welcome home they’ve earned.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Political Headlines June 18, 2012: Brett McGurk Withdrawing President Barack Obama’s Nomination to Be Ambassador to Iraq

POLITICAL HEADLINES

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

McGurk Withdrawing Nomination to Be Ambassador to Iraq

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-18-12

President Obama’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk, has withdrawn his nomination amid questions about his professionalism and experience.

Some on Capitol Hill already had questions about McGurk, a former National Security Council staffer for both President George W. Bush and President Obama, given his lack of managerial experience and role in negotiations with Iraq that ended with the United States withdrawing all combat troops.

It seemed McGurk might weather those criticisms, but earlier this month someone leaked emails he sent in 2008 while in Iraq, ones in which he wooed a female Wall Street Journal reporter — perhaps jokingly referencing favors of access and information. He later divorced his wife and married the reporter. Senators wanted to question McGurk about suggestions in the emails, jokingly or otherwise, that he would give a reporter access to sensitive information and power if their relationship blossomed….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 29, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech Honors Iraq Veterans at the White House Dinner

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

The President and Mrs. Obama hosted a dinner at the White House to honor our Iraq war veterans. It was an opportunity to thank them on behalf of the more than 300 million Americans in whose name they served.

President Barack Obama at a dinner honoring Iraq war veterans

President Barack Obama at a dinner honoring Iraq war veterans, White House Photo, Pete Souza, 2/29/12

President Obama Honors Iraq Veterans at the White House

Source: WH, 2-29-12

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a dinner to honor Iraq War Veterans

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Department of Defense dinner in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 29, 2012. The President and Mrs. Obama hosted the dinner to honor Armed Forces who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, and to honor their families. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr Jill Biden tonight welcomed a group of true American heroes to the White House. “A Nation’s Gratitude: Honoring those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn” was a formal dinner that paid tribute to our Iraq veterans and marked the end of the war.

More than 100 service members and their guests were in attendance, and the invitees included men and women in uniform from all ranks, each U.S. state and territory, and every branch of the Armed Forces. Together, they represented the million American troops who served in Iraq, and they also represented  what Vice President Joe Biden called the finest generation of warriors in all of history.

In his remarks, the President welcomed the veterans home, praised their bravery and dedication to their mission, and thanked them on behalf of more than 300 million Americans:

Tonight, what we can do is convey what you’ve meant to the rest of us. Because through the dust and the din and the fog of war, the glory of your service always shone through. In your noble example, we see the virtues and the values that sustain America, that keep this country great.

You taught us about duty. Blessed to live in the land of the free, you could have opted for an easier path. But you know that freedom is not free. And so you volunteered and you stepped forward, and you raised your hand and you took an oath — to protect and defend; to serve a cause greater than yourself, knowing, in a time of war, you could be sent into harm’s way.

You taught us about resolve. Invasion turned to insurgency and then sectarian strife. But you persevered, tour after tour, year after year.  Indeed, we’re mindful that even as we gather here, Iraq veterans continue to risk their lives in Afghanistan, and our prayers are with them all tonight.

In one of our nation’s longest wars, you wrote one of the most extraordinary chapters in American military history. Now the Iraqi people have a chance to forge their own destiny, and every one of you who served there can take pride in knowing you gave the Iraqis this opportunity; that you succeeded in your mission.

You can watch the tributes before the dinner here

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President, the Vice President, Secretary Panetta, and General Dempsey at Dinner in Honor of the Armed Forces who Served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn and their Families

Damon Waters-Bey East Room
February 29, 2012

8:07 P.M. EST

GENERAL DEMPSEY:  You can go ahead and keep — you do whatever you got to do.  I’ll do whatever I got to do.  (Laughter.)  That’s what the chain of command is all about.

This morning, my wife, Deanie, we woke up and she said, “You know today is a special day.”  And I said, “Of course it is.  We’ve been invited to the White House to celebrate the end of mission in Iraq.”  And she said, “No, no.”  I mean, she said, “That’s pretty cool, actually.”  But she said, “It’s also Leap Year.  It’s the 29th of February.  It only comes around once every four years.”  And then she said — and so, in thinking about that, she said, “Do not sing.  Don’t even think about singing at this event tonight.”  (Laughter.)  “Because if you do, we are likely not to be invited back again for like the next four years.”  (Laughter.)  And she said –

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Sing!

GENERAL DEMPSEY:  No.  (Laughter.)  And she said, “Besides, the President has a better voice.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, sir, I’m your senior military advisor.  I don’t agree with that assessment, personally.  (Laughter.)  But we’ll see.

I’m particularly honored tonight to be joined by the Joint Chiefs, who are scattered through the audience — with General George Casey, with General Rick Sanchez, and General Lloyd Austin, who, honestly, have done some incredible heavy lifting for our nation over the past decade.  You all stand tall in an exceptionally long list of dedicated leaders who put their heart and soul into seeing our difficult mission in Iraq through to completion.

For more than two decades — that’s the thing to remember here — for more than two decades, Iraq was a dominant part of our lives.  In a sense, it was a family affair.  And what I mean by that is some of us sent our own sons and daughters into this conflict over the past 20 years.  All of us left our families behind.  And tour after tour, they served and supported every bit as much as we did.

The road we traveled together was very tough.  Every day required us to balance conflict and compassion, context and consequence.  Everywhere and at every level, we learned the power of relationships — relationships rooted in trust and respect within ourselves, but also with our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

And we saw just how profoundly impressive America’s fighting force, the Armed Forces of the United States — soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — and family members like all of you here tonight, and those that I’ve known through the years, proudly represent.  Because you, and those who didn’t come home with us, and those who returned forever changed, really made possible what we were able to accomplish in Iraq.

It was your courage, your resilience, and your sheer resolve to take care of each other, to defend our nation, and to provide the Iraqi people with a choice for their own future.  Even in — and maybe even, I’d say, especially in — the toughest of times, your character and those you represent here tonight shine through.  And it mattered.

Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, thank you for recognizing the service and sacrifice of the military family in this very special way.  I really appreciate — we really appreciate — the support that you and the Vice President, and Dr. Biden and your wife, and those that they have bound together in the Joining Forces initiative, and the nation provide us, as men and women in uniform and the families that we represent.  And I know that we all share a commitment to keep faith with them, and especially the thousands who have returned with wounds both seen and unseen.
There’s no one more strongly committed to their well-being than the person that I now have the opportunity and the privilege to introduce.  Ladies and gentlemen, our Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Leon Panetta.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY PANETTA:  Thank you very much, General Dempsey.  And he does have one hell of a voice.  (Laughter.)

Thank you for your duty, for your dedication, for your service to this great nation that we all represent here this evening.

Tonight, we are truly in the company of heroes.  The honor that we present to all of you is because we care about those who have fought and sacrificed in Iraq.

Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, we thank you deeply for honoring those heroes and welcoming them here into your home.

To all who fought in Iraq, we thank you for your service.  You’ve earned our nation’s everlasting gratitude.  We are indebted to you for your willingness to fight, your willingness to fight for your country.  We are indebted to your families and to your loved ones for the sacrifices that they made so that their loved ones could help defend this nation.

Again and again and again, you left the comfort of family and friends, you left the comfort of this great country, and confronted brutal realities.  Places like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Sadr City, Najaf and elsewhere throughout Iraq.  Your unflagging commitment and uncommon dedication helped the Iraqis realize a dream of building an independent and sovereign nation that could secure and defend itself.

It is not going to be easy, but the fact is you gave them the opportunity to be a democracy — because of you.  You are part of a generation of Americans — the new, greatest generation of Americans — responding to the call of duty by your nation.  Deployment after deployment, you’ve been willing to serve this nation.  You’ve been willing to put your lives on the line and you’ve been willing to die in order to protect this country.

You have done everything this country asked you to do.  You return to a grateful nation.  And you can stand proud of all you’ve accomplished.  We owe all of you the honor that your service is deserving.  And we owe to you the assurance that we will never forget the sacrifices of those who are not with us this evening — those who gave their lives to this country.  We pledge to their memory and we pledge to all of you that we will never forget and we will never retreat from what you’ve accomplished.

Last December in Baghdad, we cased the colors of the United States Forces Iraq.  And I had the chance to be at that ceremony. And at the time I noted, this is not the end; this is truly the beginning.

For America tonight, this is not the end.  It is the beginning of a long-lasting tribute to you and to all who served in Iraq.  This country was built upon the service and sacrifice of men and women like you.  Our very democracy depends on people like you, who are willing to step forward and defend this country, to salute and, yes, to fight to give each of us a chance to pursue the American Dream, giving our children a better life.
And just as you have recognized and fulfilled your responsibility to this nation, we must do the same for you.  It is now our responsibility, the responsibility of communities at every corner of this country, to embrace your return, to welcome you back, and to ensure that you and your families have the support you deserve.

As Secretary of Defense, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, and how proud I am of every American who serves this country in uniform.

And now it is my honor to introduce someone who believes deeply in that American Dream — we are both products of that, as the children of those who came from other countries.  And he is dedicated to defending and preserving that dream.  I’m grateful to Vice President Biden and to Dr. Jill Biden for their continued strong support for our men and women in uniform.  They have a son, Beau, who deployed to Iraq, so they know what this war is all about and the sacrifices that are required of military families.

Over the past three years, Vice President Biden has traveled to the region extensively and has played a tremendous role in steering Iraq policy.  He probably deserves a combat badge for the political battles that he’s been involved in.  And Jill has led the effort, along with Mrs. Obama, to support our military families.

On behalf of all of us at the Department of Defense, we thank the President, we thank Mrs. Obama, we thank the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden, for their leadership, for their support and for their dedication to a strong America.  Strong in mind, strong in body and strong in spirit.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I came because I was expecting a duet tonight.  (Laughter.)  I thought maybe we were going to hear you and my Irish friend actually sing, Mr. President.  I’m betting on you.  (Laughter.)

Hey, look, let me begin by saying that — a special thanks to Generals Casey, Sanchez, Odierno and Austin.  The good news for Casey and Sanchez, they only had to see me three or four times.  Poor General O had to see me close to a dozen times, and General Austin put up with me at the end.  I want to say to all of the brass in here and the Joint Chiefs — we owe you a debt of gratitude because you have trained the finest generation of warriors — and this is not hyperbole — the finest generation of warriors in the history of this country — and I would argue, in a literal sense, the finest generation of warriors in all of history.

I get frustrated as the President does when I hear talk about Generation X and how Generation X is — they’re not ready for all the travails that previous generations have been through. Most of you in this room are made up of what I call the 9/11 Generation.  You are the most incredible generation this country has produced.  Since 9/11, over 2.8 million of your generation, men and women, have joined the military, knowing, and in many cases, hoping, that you’d be sent into harm’s way.

More than a million of you strapped on desert boots and walked across those god-awful sands of Iraq, with temperatures up to 135-140 degrees, averaging about 117 degrees in the summer.  Over a million of you.  A million of you.

This journey began nine years ago, when armored vehicles rumbled across the border of Kuwait and into one of the most challenging missions that the American military has ever undertaken.  And all of you sitting at our tables tonight, you know better than anyone, it was something — sometimes an impossible mission.  Sometimes it was impossible to determine who the enemy was — who the enemy was.

That was just a few short years ago.  A few short years ago, there were literally hundreds of bodies a day being piled up in the Baghdad morgue.  The highways became mine fields.  Irish Alley was the place that was one of the most dangerous places in the world.  Every convoy was a test of faith.  And you saddled up, every single day, after seeing some of your buddies blown up, after cleaning out the vehicles, and you saddled up the next day.

A bullet slipped in an envelope and slid under a family’s door became an unmistakable warning that they had to leave the house and the neighborhood or they would die.  And while you may have been steeped in military doctrine — and you have been — you were also made to master the vagaries of local Iraqi politics — issues ranging from electricity to unemployment, from currency exchange to tax collection.

You’re incredible.  You adapted.  You succeeded.  And you defeated.  You defeated a tyrant.  You beat back violent extremists.  And the most remarkable thing you did, because of the breadth of your capability, you enabled a country that had not been governed in any reasonable way for over four decades — you actually helped them set up institutions and train a military and a civilian corps that gives them a real fighting chance.

Today, because of you, rather than a giant vacuum in a strategically vital region, there’s a prospect of stability and prosperity.  And that wasn’t luck, it wasn’t an accident; it was your sacrifice and hard work that made it possible.  And it will never be forgotten.

Harry Truman — President Truman once described the end of a war as “a solemn but glorious honor — excuse me — “a solemn but glorious hour.”  I believe — and it’s presumptuous of me to interpret what he meant, but I believe that he meant that honoring those who fought also requires remembering those who were lost:  4,475.  And the exact number is important — 4,475 fallen angels.  More than 30,000 wounded — some of you in this room.  Others bear, as Leon said, the invisible scars of their experience.

The President obviously will speak for himself, but I can tell you we’re both awed — awed — by your sacrifice.  But not just those of you who deployed, but your brothers, your sisters, your husbands, your wives, your moms, your dads.

John Milton, the English poet, once said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  They also serve who only stand and wait.  We owe you, your family members, almost as much as we owe you.  Every morning I’d walk in and Jill would be getting her cup of coffee, standing over the sink, mouthing a prayer.  You wives and husbands of the deployed person, your brothers and sisters — there wasn’t an hour a day that didn’t go by that they didn’t flash across your mind — wondering, is my husband, is my wife, is my son, is my daughter — are they okay?  It’s an incredible thing to ask of so many people.

And now, in the finest American tradition, having carried out your mission, you’ve come home.  As I said when I was with General Austin and with Talabani and Barzani and a couple of you, Colonel, were there — it’s good to see you here, Colonel, instead of in Baghdad.

But like every American before you, every warrior before you, you left Iraq, taking nothing with you but your experience, your achievements, and the pride associated with knowing that you did an incredible job.  That’s an American tradition, too — taking nothing but your pride back home.

So on behalf of a grateful nation — there’s never going to be a way we can truly repay you, there’s no way to fully repay you — but let me simply say thank you.  Thank you and your families for the heroic work you’ve done.  You’ve made a difference, and I think you’ve helped chart a different course for history in the 21st century.

But, ladies and gentlemen, a man that I’ve sat with every day for the past three years or so, I’ve watched him make the decisions he had to make about war and conflict.  I’ve watched him, how he’s done it.  And I know — presumptuous of me to say  — I know — I know every one of those decisions that had to be made hang heavy in his mind and his heart.

There’s no one I’ve encountered — and I’ve been here for eight Presidents — who cares more about you, and all of you who continue to serve, than this man.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud — I am proud to introduce to you your Commander-in-Chief and my friend, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you so much, everyone.  Please, please.  Please, everyone, have a seat.

Thank you, Joe Biden, for not only outstanding remarks, but the extraordinary leadership you showed in helping to guide our policies.

To Secretary Panetta; General Dempsey to all the commanders who are here and did so much under such extraordinary circumstances to arrive at an outcome in which the Iraqi people have an opportunity to chart their own destiny — thank you for the great work that you’ve done.

I do have to say, despite Deanie’s advice, I thought Dempsey was going to burst into song.  (Laughter.)  You have not lived until you hear him belt out an Irish ballad.  His voice is better than mine.  I think you’re never a prophet in your own land, Marty, so your wives are there to cut you down a peg.  (Laughter.)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:  This house has stood for more than two centuries, through war and peace, through hardship and through prosperity.  These rooms have hosted presidents and prime ministers, and kings and queens.  But in the history of this house, there’s never been a night quite like this.  Because this evening, we welcome, not the statesmen who decide great questions of war and peace, but citizens — men and women from every corner of our country, from every rank of our military, every branch of our service — who answer the call, who go to war, who defend the peace.

And in a culture that celebrates fame and fortune, yours are not necessarily household names.  They’re something more — the patriots who serve in our name.  And after nearly nine years of war in Iraq, tonight is an opportunity for us to express our gratitude and to say once more:  Welcome home.

This is not the first time that we’ve paid tribute to those who served courageously in Iraq.  This will not be the last.  And history reminds us of our obligations as a nation at moments like this.  This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when our veterans didn’t always receive the respect and the thanks that they so richly deserved — and that’s a mistake that we must never repeat.

The good news is, already, we’ve seen Americans come together — in small towns and big cities all across the country — to honor your service in Iraq.  And tonight, on behalf of Michelle and myself, on behalf of over 300 Americans — 300 million Americans, we want to express those simple words that we can never say enough, and that’s thank you.

In your heart, each of you carries your own story — the pride of a job well done; the pain of losing a friend, a comrade. Ernie Pyle, who celebrated our GIs in World War II, said that your world can never be known to the rest of us.  Tonight, what we can do is convey what you’ve meant to the rest of us.  Because through the dust and the din and the fog of war, the glory of your service always shone through.  In your noble example, we see the virtues and the values that sustain America, that keep this country great.

You taught us about duty.  Blessed to live in the land of the free, you could have opted for an easier path.  But you know that freedom is not free.  And so you volunteered and you stepped forward, and you raised your hand and you took an oath — to protect and defend; to serve a cause greater than yourself, knowing, in a time of war, you could be sent into harm’s way.

You taught us about resolve.  Invasion turned to insurgency and then sectarian strife.  But you persevered, tour after tour, year after year.  Indeed, we’re mindful that even as we gather here, Iraq veterans continue to risk their lives in Afghanistan, and our prayers are with them all tonight.

In one of our nation’s longest wars, you wrote one of the most extraordinary chapters in American military history.  Now the Iraqi people have a chance to forge their own destiny, and every one of you who served there can take pride in knowing you gave the Iraqis this opportunity; that you succeeded in your mission.

You taught us about devotion — to country and to comrades, but most of all, to family.  Because I know that some of the hardest days of war were the moments you missed back home — the birthdays, the anniversaries, when your little girl or boy took their first wobbly steps.  And behind every one of you, was a parent, a spouse, or son or a daughter, trying to stay strong, and praying for the day that you’d come home safe.  And that’s why Michelle and Dr. Biden have made it their mission to make sure America takes care of your families, because they inspire us as much as you do.  They deserve that honor as much as you do.

That’s why I’d ask all the spouses and the partners and families to stand up and accept our gratitude for your remarkable service — especially because you look so good tonight.  (Applause.)

You taught us about sacrifice — a love of country so deep, so profound, you were willing to give your lives for it.  And tonight, we pay solemn tribute to all who did.  We remember the first, on that first day of war:  Major Jay Thomas Aubin; Captain Ryan Anthony Beaupre; Corporal Brian Matthew Kennedy; Staff Sergeant Kendall Damon Waters-Bey.  And we remember the last — Specialist David Emanuel Hickman, November 14, 2011.

Separated by nearly nine years, they are bound for all time, among the nearly 4,500 American patriots who gave all that they had to give.  To their families, including the Gold Star families here tonight, know that we will never forget their sacrifice and that your loved ones live on in the soul of our nation — now and forever.

You taught us about strength — the kind that comes from within; the kind that we see in our wounded warriors.  For you, coming home was the start of another battle — the battle to recover, to stand, to walk, to serve again.  And in your resilience we see the essence of America, because we do not give up.  No matter the hardship, we push on.  And just as the wounds of war can last a lifetime, so does America’s commitment to you and all who serve — to give you the care you earned and the opportunities you need as you begin the next proud chapter in your lives.

And finally, all of you taught us a lesson about the character of our country.  As you look across this room tonight, you look at our military — we draw strength from every part of our American family — every color, every creed, every background, every belief.  And every day, you succeed together — as one American team.

As your Commander-in-Chief, I could not be more proud of you.  As an American, as a husband and father of two daughters, I could not be more grateful for your example of the kind of country we can be, of what we can achieve when we stick together.

So I’ll leave you with a picture that captures this spirit.  It’s from that day in December, when the last convoy rolled out — five American soldiers standing beside their vehicle, marked with the words, “Last vehicle out of Iraq.”  They’re young, men and women, shoulder to shoulder, proud, heads held high, finally going home.  And they were asked what it was like to be, literally, the last troops out of Iraq.  And one of them gave a simple reply:  “We completed the mission.”  We completed the mission.  We did our jobs.

So I propose a toast.  To the country we love.  To the men and women who defend her.  And to that faith — that fundamental American faith — that says no mission is too hard, no challenge is too great; through tests and through trials, we don’t simply endure, we emerge stronger than before, knowing that America’s greatest days are still to come — and they are great because of you.

Cheers.

God bless you and your families.  And may God continue to bless those in uniform and the United States of America.

Thank you very much, everybody.  May dinner be served.  (Applause.)

END
8:40 P.M. EST

Full Text December 24, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address with First Lady Michelle Obama Thanking the Troops for their Services and Christmas & Holiday Greetings

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama tape a holiday message

The President and First Lady tape a holiday message in the Roosevelt Room, White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson, 12/16/11

Weekly Address: The President and First Lady Thank our Troops for their Service as we Celebrate the Holiday Season

Source: WH, 12-24-11
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama offer a special holiday tribute to some of the strongest, bravest, and most resilient members of our American family – the men and women who wear our country’s uniform and the families who support them:

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

WEEKLY ADDRESS: The President and First Lady Thank our Troops for their Service as we Celebrate the Holiday Season

In this week’s address, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came together to wish the American people a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and thanked our troops, military families, and veterans for their service and sacrifice. President Obama and Michelle Obama encouraged everyone to visit JoiningForces.gov to find ways to give back to our brave men and women in uniform and their families during the holiday season as we work together in the spirit of service.

Remarks of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 24, 2011

THE PRESIDENT: Hi everyone. As you gather with family and friends this weekend, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I – and of course Bo – want to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

THE FIRST LADY:  This is such a wonderful time of year.

It’s a time to honor the story of love and redemption that began 2,000 years ago … a time to see the world through a child’s eyes and rediscover the magic all around us … and a time to give thanks for the gifts that bless us every single day.

This holiday season at the White House, we wanted to show our thanks with a special holiday tribute to some of the strongest, bravest, and most resilient members of our American family – the men and women who wear our country’s uniform and the families who support them.

THE PRESIDENT: For many military families, the best gift this year is a simple one – welcoming a loved one back for the holidays. You see, after nearly nine years, our war in Iraq is over.  Our troops are coming home.  And across America, military families are being reunited.

So let’s take a moment to give thanks for their service; for their families’ service; for our veterans’ service.  And let’s say a prayer for all our troops standing post all over the world, especially our brave men and women in Afghanistan who are serving, even as we speak, in harm’s way to protect the freedoms and security we hold dear.

THE FIRST LADY: Our veterans, troops, and military families sacrifice so much for us.

So this holiday season, let’s make sure that all of them know just how much we appreciate everything they do.

Let’s ask ourselves, “How can I give back? How can my family serve them as well as they’ve served us”

One way you can get started is to visit JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can get involved in your community.

THE PRESIDENT: Giving of ourselves; service to others – that’s what this season is all about. For my family and millions of Americans, that’s what Christmas is all about. It reminds us that part of what it means to love God is to love one another, to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. But that belief is not just at the center of our Christian faith, it’s shared by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. It’s why so many of us, every year, volunteer our time to help those most in need; especially our hungry and our homeless.

So whatever you believe, wherever you’re from, let’s remember the spirit of service that connects us all this season – as Americans.  Each of us can do our part to serve our communities and our country, not just today, but every day.

THE FIRST LADY: So from our family to yours, Merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT:  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody.

Full Text December 17, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address Honors Those Who Served in Iraq, as War Ends

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Honoring Those Who Served in Iraq

Source: WH, 12-17-11

President Obama expresses the gratitude of the entire nation to the brave men and women who have served in the war in Iraq, and welcomes our troops home as we mark the official end to the war.

President Obama tapes the Weekly Address in the Roosevelt Room of the White Hous

President Obama tapes the Weekly Address, White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/16/11

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

WEEKLY ADDRESS: Honoring Those Who Served in Iraq, as the War Comes to An End

WASHINGTON— In this week’s address, President Obama expressed the gratitude of the entire nation to the brave men and women who have served in the war in Iraq, and welcomed our troops home as we mark the official end to the war.  This historic achievement would not be possible without the skill and dedication of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  They prove every day that when we come together, there is nothing we cannot do.  Now it’s time to follow their example, put aside partisanship, and rebuild our economy so that every American who wants to work can find a job, and everyone has the opportunity to make it if they try.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 17, 2011

This week marked an historic moment in the life of our country and our military.

For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq.  More than 1.5 million Americans have served there with honor, skill, and bravery.  Tens of thousands have been wounded.  Military families have sacrificed greatly – none more so than the families of those nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.  All of them – our troops, veterans, and their families – will always have the thanks of a grateful nation.

On Thursday, the colors our Armed Forces fought under in Iraq were formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad before beginning their journey back home.  Our troops are now preparing to make their final march across the border and out of the country.  Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its own people.  Our war there will be over.  All of our troops will be out of Iraq.  And this holiday season, all of us can finally say: welcome home.

This is an extraordinary achievement – one made possible by the hard work and sacrifice of the men and women who had the courage to serve.  And there’s a lesson to learn from that – a lesson about our character as a nation.

See, there’s a reason our military is the most respected institution in America.  They don’t see themselves or each other as Democrats first or Republicans first.  They see themselves as Americans first.

For all our differences and disagreements, they remind us that we are all a part of something bigger; that we are one nation and one people.  And for all our challenges, they remind us that there is nothing we can’t do when we stick together.

They’re the finest our nation has to offer.  Many will remain in the military and go on to the next mission.  Others will take off the uniform and become veterans.  But their commitment to service doesn’t end when they take off the uniform – in fact, I’m confident the story of their service to America is just beginning.

After years of rebuilding Iraq, it is time to enlist our veterans and all our people in the work of rebuilding America.

Folks like my grandfather came back from World War II to form the backbone of the largest middle class in history.  And today’s generation of veterans – the 9/11 Generation of veterans – is armed with the skills, discipline, and leadership to attack the defining challenge of our time: rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, where anyone can make it if they try.

Now it is up to us to serve these brave men and women as well as they serve us.  Every day, they meet their responsibilities to their families and their country.  Now it’s time to meet ours – especially those of us who you sent to serve in Washington.  This cannot be a country where division and discord stand in the way of our progress.  This is a moment where we must come together to ensure that every American has the chance to work for a decent living, own their own home, send their kids to college, and secure a decent retirement.

This is a moment for us to build a country that lives up to the ideals that so many of our bravest Americans have fought and even died for.  That is our highest obligation as citizens.  That is the welcome home that our troops deserve.

Thank you.

White House Recap December 10-16, 2011: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Obama Welcomes Home Troops at Fort Bragg — Marks the End of the War in Iraq

Political Buzz December 15, 2011: US Fornally Ends Iraq War with Ceremony in Baghdad Lead by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University. Ms. Goodman has also contributed the overviews, and chronologies in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, 4th edition, edited by Gil Troy, Fred L. Israel, and Arthur Meier Schlesinger to be published by Facts on File, Inc. in late 2011.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Casing the Colors in Iraq

Source: WH, 12-15-11
20111215 Casing the Colors

Lloyd James Austin III, commander, United States Forces-Iraq, and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen, case the USF-I Colors during a flag casing ceremony that marked the end of Operation New Dawn, at the former Sather Air Base, in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2011. Since 2003, more than 1 million Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines have served in Iraq. Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricard, U.S. Air Forces Central, Baghdad Media Outreach TeamGen.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey — chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were in Baghdad today to bring the mission in Iraq to its official end.

At Baghdad Airport, in a ceremony steeped in tradition and history, soldiers lowered and cased the U.S. flag in preparating for its return to the United States.

“This will be an historic moment where we basically enter a new chapter in Iraq in which we deal with them in a way that represents the kind of normal relationship we have with other countries,” Secretary Panetta said.

The drawdown will continue through December 31.

IN FOCUS: US FORMALLY ENDS IRAQ WAR WITH CEREMONY IN BAGHDAD LEAD BY DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA

U.S. formally ends war in Iraq: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta paid solemn tribute on Thursday to an “independent, free and sovereign Iraq” and declared the official end to the Iraq war, formally wrapping up the U.S. military’s 81 / 2-year mission in the country. “After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Panetta said at a ceremony at Baghdad ‘s international airport. “To be sure, the cost was high – in blood and treasure for the United States, and for the Iraqi people. Those lives were not lost in vain. ” The 1:15 p.m. ceremony (5:15 a.m. in Washington) effectively ended the war two weeks earlier than was necessary under the terms of the security agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments in 2008, which stipulated that the troops must be gone by Dec. 31. But commanders decided there was no need to keep troops in Iraq through the Christmas holidays given that talks on maintaining a U.S. presence beyond the deadline had failed. The date of the final ceremony had been kept secret for weeks, so as not to give insurgents or militias an opportunity to stage attacks…. – WaPo, 12-15-11

Ceremony today will formally end Iraq war: The Iraq war is set to officially end Thursday, with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta flying into Baghdad to attend a ceremony formally wrapping up the U.S. military’s 81 / 2-year mission in Iraq.
The ceremony effectively ends the war two weeks earlier than was necessary under the terms of the security agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments in 2008, which stipulated that the troops must be gone by Dec. 31. But commanders decided there was no need to keep troops in Iraq through the Christmas holidays given that talks on maintaining a U.S. presence beyond the deadline had failed. The date of the final ceremony had been kept secret for weeks, so as not to give insurgents or militias an opportunity to stage attacks…. – WaPo, 12-15-11

  • US War in Iraq Declared Officially Over: Almost nine years after the first American tanks began massing on the Iraq border, the Pentagon declared an official end to its mission here, closing a troubled conflict that helped … – NYT, 12-15-11
  • Iraq war draws to a quiet close: The American war in Iraq came to an unspectacular end Thursday at a simple ceremony held on the edge of Baghdad’s international airport, not far from the highway along which US troops first fought their way into the capital more than eight … – WaPo, 12-15-11
  • Iraq war draws to a close: US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared the official end to the Iraq war, formally wrapping up the US military’s mission in the country after almost nine years. US military personnel holding the US flag, Iraq flag, and the US Forces Iraq colors … – WaPo, 12-15-11
  • Mission accomplished, really: US war in Iraq officially ends: Some 4000 US forces will be exiting Iraq in the coming days. ‘Iraq will be tested in days ahead,’ warned Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at an end-of-mission ceremony Thursday…. – CS Monitor, 12-15-11
  • US formally draws curtain on the unpopular war in Iraq (video): At the official flag-furling ceremony in Baghdad to end the war in Iraq, Secretary Panetta spoke highly of US soldiers’ sacrifice. But both Iraqis and Americans appear happy for it to be over…. – CS Monitor, 12-15-11
  • US military formally ends mission in Iraq: The US military mission in Iraq formally ended Thursday in a small ceremony at Baghdad airport as the last US troops prepared to leave the country after nearly nine years of war, billions of dollars spent and nearly 4500 … – LAT, 12-15-11
  • Panetta to formally shut down US war in Iraq: After nearly nine years, 4500 American dead, 32000 wounded and more than $800 billion, US officials prepared Thursday to formally shut down the war in Iraq — a conflict that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said was worth the price in … – AP, 12-15-11
  • Panetta Arrives in Baghdad for Military Handover Ceremony: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta landed in the Iraqi capital on Thursday for the ceremony officially ending the military mission here and closing out a bloody and controversial chapter of American … NYT, 12-15-11
  • Iraq war draws to a quiet close: The Iraq war is set to officially end Thursday, with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta flying into Baghdad to attend a ceremony formally wrapping up the US military’s 8 1 / 2 -year mission in Iraq. The ceremony effectively ends the war two … WaPo, 12-15-11
  • Obama Praises Troops as He Ends the War He Opposed: President Obama observed the end of the war in Iraq on Wednesday before an audience of those who fought in it, telling a crowd of returning war veterans that the nearly nine years of conflict in Iraq…. – NYT, 12-14-11

Full Text December 14, 2011: President Barack Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama’s Speeches on the End of the War in Iraq at Fort Bragg — Welcoming Home the Troops

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

After nearly nine years, the war in Iraq is coming to an end, and our troops are coming home. Check out a timeline of the events that helped to bring the war to a close and learn more about President Obama’s efforts to fight for veterans.

The Obama administration and Iraq

The End of the Iraq War: A Timeline

Source: WH, 12-13-11

From Day One, President Obama has promised to bring our troops home from Iraq.

In his Inauguration speech, he said, “We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people.”

In the time since, the President has worked to make good on that promise — and ensure that our veterans get the care and benefits they’ve earned through their service.

This month, after nearly nine years, the final American military units in the country will return to the United States, and the war will end.

We’ve put together a timeline to show the milestones that have brought us to this point. Take a look: WH.gov/Iraq

President Obama at Fort Bragg: “Welcome Home”

Source: WH, 12-13-11

President Obama traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Wednesday — home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces — to salute the service of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines who fought in Iraq and helped to bring the war to an end.

“As your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to finally say these two words,” he said, “Welcome home.”

He told the crowd assembled in a hanger on base:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.

More than 1.5 million American troops served in Iraq — including many from Ft. Bragg who conducted multiple tours of duty. And the President said that we’ll continue to honor their service now that the war is over:

Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it. It’s not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you. That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned.

Read the full remarks here.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President and First Lady on the End of the War in Iraq

Fort Bragg, North Carolina

11:52 A.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Hello, everyone!  I get to start you all off.  I want to begin by thanking General Anderson for that introduction, but more importantly for his leadership here at Fort Bragg.  I can’t tell you what a pleasure and an honor it is to be back here.  I have so many wonderful memories of this place.

A couple of years ago, I came here on my very first official trip as First Lady.  And I spent some — a great time with some of the amazing military spouses, and I visited again this summer to help to put on the finishing touches on an amazing new home for a veteran and her family.  So when I heard that I had the opportunity to come back and to be a part of welcoming you all home, to say I was excited was an understatement.

And I have to tell you that when I look out at this crowd, I am simply overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed and proud, because I know the level of strength and commitment that you all display every single day.  Whenever this country calls, you all are the ones who answer, no matter the circumstance, no matter the danger, no matter the sacrifice.

And I know that you do this not just as soldiers, not just as patriots, but as fathers and mothers, as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.  And I know that while your children and your spouses and your parents and siblings might not wear uniforms, they serve right alongside you.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  I know that your sacrifice is their sacrifice, too.  So when I think of all that you do and all that your families do, I am so proud and so grateful.  But more importantly, I’m inspired.  But like so many Americans, I never feel like I can fully convey just how thankful I am, because words just don’t seem to be enough.

And that’s why I have been working so hard, along with Jill Biden, on a campaign that we call Joining Forces.  It’s a campaign that we hope goes beyond words.  It’s a campaign that is about action.  It’s about rallying all Americans to give you the honor, the appreciation and the support that you have all earned.  And I don’t have to tell you that this hasn’t been a difficult campaign.  We haven’t had to do much convincing because American have been lining up to show their appreciation for you and your families in very concrete and meaningful ways.

Businesses are hiring tens of thousands of veterans and military spouses.  Schools all across the country and PTAs are reaching out to our military children.  And individuals are serving their neighbors and their communities all over this country in your honor.

So I want you to know that this nation’s support doesn’t end as this war ends.  Not by a long shot.  We’re going to keep on doing this.  We have so much more work to do.  We’re going to keep finding new ways to serve all of you as well as you have served us.  And the man leading the way is standing right here.  (Applause.)  He is fighting for you and your families every single day.  He’s helped more than half a million veterans and military family members go to college through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.  (Applause.)

He’s taken unprecedented steps to improve mental health care.  He’s cut taxes for businesses that hire a veteran or a wounded warrior.  And he has kept his promise to responsibly bring you home from Iraq.

So please join me in welcoming someone who’s your strongest advocate, someone who shows his support for our military not only in words, but in deeds, my husband, our President, and your Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Hello, Fort Bragg!  All the way!

AUDIENCE:  Airborne!

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, I’m sure you realize why I don’t like following Michelle Obama.  (Laughter.)  She’s pretty good.  And it is true, I am a little biased, but let me just say it:  Michelle, you are a remarkable First Lady.  You are a great advocate for military families.  (Applause.)  And you’re cute.  (Applause.)  I’m just saying — gentlemen, that’s your goal:  to marry up.  (Laughter.)  Punch above your weight.

Fort Bragg, we’re here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military.  For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq.  And you — the incredible men and women of Fort Bragg — have been there every step of the way, serving with honor, sacrificing greatly, from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops to come home.  So, as your Commander-in-Chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree:  Welcome home!  (Applause.)  Welcome home.  Welcome home.  (Applause.)  Welcome home.

It is great to be here at Fort Bragg — home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces.  I want to thank General Anderson and all your outstanding leaders for welcoming us here today, including General Dave Rodriguez, General John Mulholland.  And I want to give a shout-out to your outstanding senior enlisted leaders, including Command Sergeant Major Roger Howard, Darrin Bohn, Parry Baer.  And give a big round of applause to the Ground Forces Band.  (Applause.)

We’ve got a lot of folks in the house today.  We’ve got the 18th Airborne Corps — the Sky Dragons.  (Applause.)  We’ve got the legendary, All-American 82nd Airborne Division.  (Applause.)  We’ve got America’s quiet professionals — our Special Operations Forces.  (Applause.)  From Pope Field, we’ve got Air Force.  (Applause.)  And I do believe we’ve got some Navy and Marine Corps here, too.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yes!  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  And though they’re not here with us today, we send our thoughts and prayers to General Helmick, Sergeant Major Rice and all the folks from the 18th Airborne and Bragg who are bringing our troops back from Iraq.  (Applause.)  We honor everyone from the 82nd Airborne and Bragg serving and succeeding in Afghanistan, and General Votel and those serving around the world.

And let me just say, one of the most humbling moments I’ve had as President was when I presented our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to the parents of one of those patriots from Fort Bragg who gave his life in Afghanistan — Staff Sergeant Robert Miller.

I want to salute Ginny Rodriguez, Miriam Mulholland, Linda Anderson, Melissa Helmick, Michelle Votel and all the inspiring military families here today.  We honor your service as well.  (Applause.)

And finally, I want to acknowledge your neighbors and friends who help keep your — this outstanding operation going, all who help to keep you Army Strong, and that includes Representatives Mike McIntyre, and Dave Price, and Heath Shuler, and Governor Bev Perdue.  I know Bev is so proud to have done so much for our military families.  So give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

Today, I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq.  Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done.  Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis.  Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out.  Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq — the colors you fought under — will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad.  Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home.

Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq.  And over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country.  Some of them are on their way back to Fort Bragg.  As General Helmick said, “They know that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol, and they’re going to be a part of history.”

As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history.  Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high.  One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end.  Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people.  America’s war in Iraq will be over.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, we knew this day would come.  We’ve known it for some time.  But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.

Now, nine years ago, American troops were preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf and the possibility that they would be sent to war.  Many of you were in grade school.  I was a state senator.  Many of the leaders now governing Iraq — including the Prime Minister — were living in exile.  And since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many twists and turns.  It was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate.  But there was one constant — there was one constant:  your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another.  That was constant.  That did not change.  That did not waiver.

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  We’re building a new partnership between our nations.  And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.

This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.  And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible.

We remember the early days -– the American units that streaked across the sands and skies of Iraq; the battles from Karbala to Baghdad, American troops breaking the back of a brutal dictator in less than a month.

We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide attacks.  From the “triangle of death” to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.

We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims, militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination.  And in the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future.

We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation.  By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace.

And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces.  In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible.

Just last month, some of you — members of the Falcon Brigade –

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  — turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony that has become commonplace over these last several months.  In an area that was once the heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership brought the promise of peace.  And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said:  “This is all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.”

That’s in the words of an Iraqi.  Hard work and sacrifice.  Those words only begin to describe the costs of this war and the courage of the men and women who fought it.

We know too well the heavy cost of this war.  More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq — 1.5 million.  Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and those are only the wounds that show.  Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice — including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg — 202.  So today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family.  We grieve with them.

We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq war -– not even close.  Our civilians have represented our country with skill and bravery.  Our troops have served tour after tour of duty, with precious little dwell time in between.  Our Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service.  You’ve endured dangerous foot patrols and you’ve endured the pain of seeing your friends and comrades fall.  You’ve had to be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen –- you’ve also had to be diplomats and development workers and trainers and peacemakers.  Through all this, you have shown why the United States military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  As Michelle mentioned, we also know that the burden of war is borne by your families.  In countless base communities like Bragg, folks have come together in the absence of a loved one.  As the Mayor of Fayetteville put it, “War is not a political word here.  War is where our friends and neighbors go.”  So there have been missed birthday parties and graduations.  There are bills to pay and jobs that have to be juggled while picking up the kids.  For every soldier that goes on patrol, there are the husbands and the wives, the mothers, the fathers, the sons, the daughters praying that they come back.

So today, as we mark the end of the war, let us acknowledge, let us give a heartfelt round of applause for every military family that has carried that load over the last nine years.  You too have the thanks of a grateful nation.  (Applause.)

Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it.  It’s not enough to honor you with words.  Words are cheap.  We must do it with deeds.  You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force –- including your families.  We will keep faith with you.

We will help our wounded warriors heal, and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the unseen wounds of war.  And make no mistake — as we go forward as a nation, we are going to keep America’s armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen.  That will not stop.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That will not stop.  But our commitment doesn’t end when you take off the uniform.  You’re the finest that our nation has to offer.  And after years of rebuilding Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America.  That’s why we’re committed to doing everything we can to extend more opportunities to those who have served.

That includes the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, so that you and your families can get the education that allows you to live out your dreams.  That includes a national effort to put our veterans to work.  We’ve worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have the incentive to hire vets.  And Michelle has worked with the private sector to get commitments to create 100,000 jobs for those who’ve served.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  And by the way, we’re doing this not just because it’s the right thing to do by you –- we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for America.  Folks like my grandfather came back from World War II to form the backbone of this country’s middle class.  For our post-9/11 veterans -– with your skill, with your discipline, with your leadership, I am confident that the story of your service to America is just beginning.

But there’s something else that we owe you.  As Americans, we have a responsibility to learn from your service.  I’m thinking of an example — Lieutenant Alvin Shell, who was based here at Fort Bragg.  A few years ago, on a supply route outside Baghdad, he and his team were engulfed by flames from an RPG attack.  Covered with gasoline, he ran into the fire to help his fellow soldiers, and then led them two miles back to Camp Victory where he finally collapsed, covered with burns.  When they told him he was a hero, Alvin disagreed.  “I’m not a hero,” he said.  “A hero is a sandwich. “  (Laughter.)  “I’m a paratrooper.”

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  We could do well to learn from Alvin.  This country needs to learn from you.  Folks in Washington need to learn from you.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  Policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic lessons of Iraq — that’s important to do.  Our commanders will incorporate the hard-won lessons into future military campaigns — that’s important to do.  But the most important lesson that we can take from you is not about military strategy –- it’s a lesson about our national character.

For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there’s nothing we Americans can’t do when we stick together.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT:  For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us there’s something bigger than our differences, something that makes us one nation and one people regardless of color, regardless of creed, regardless of what part of the country we come from, regardless of what backgrounds we come out of.  You remind us we’re one nation.

And that’s why the United States military is the most respected institution in our land because you never forget that.  You can’t afford to forget it.  If you forget it, somebody dies.  If you forget it, a mission fails.  So you don’t forget it.  You have each other’s backs.  That’s why you, the 9/11 Generation, has earned your place in history.

Because of you — because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny.  That’s part of what makes us special as Americans.  Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources.  We do it because it’s right.  There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people.  That says something about who we are.

Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban.  Because of you, we’ve begun a transition to the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home from there.  And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al Qaeda so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of this Earth.

AUDIENCE:  Hooah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  So here’s what I want you to know, and here’s what I want all our men and women in uniform to know:  Because of you, we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure.  Because of you.

That success was never guaranteed.  And let us never forget the source of American leadership:  our commitment to the values that are written into our founding documents, and a unique willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity.  This is who we are.  That’s what we do as Americans, together.

The war in Iraq will soon belong to history.  Your service belongs to the ages.  Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries –- from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you –- men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.

Looking back on the war that saved our union, a great American, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once paid tribute to those who served.  “In our youth,” he said, “our hearts were touched with fire.  It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.”

All of you here today have lived through the fires of war.  You will be remembered for it.  You will be honored for it — always.  You have done something profound with your lives.  When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve.  When times were tough, you kept fighting.  When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness.

And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren.  And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire.  You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.

I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you.

God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
12:26 P.M. EST

Full Text & Political Buzz December 12, 2011: President Barack Obama Meets with Iraq Prime Minister & Declares End of Iraq War in Joint Press Conference with PM Nuri Kamal al-Maliki

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq in the Oval Office on Monday.

IN FOCUS: PRESIDENT OBAMA MEETS WITH IRAQ’S PRIME MINISTER — DECLARES END OF IRAQ WAR

Obama heralds end of divisive Iraq war: President Barack Obama heralded the end of the divisive Iraq war Monday, and warned Iraq’s neighbors that the United States would remain a major player in the region even as it brings its troops home…. – AP, 12-12-11

  • Obama Meets Iraqi Leader to Chart Broad Shifts: President Obama, meeting with Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, at the White House on Monday, said the emergence of Iraq as a “sovereign, self-reliant and democratic” nation nine years after the American-led invasion had created a beacon of democracy in the Arab world.
    When the Arab League meets in Baghdad next year for the first time in decades, he said, “people throughout the region will see a new Iraq that’s determining its own destiny.”
    The two leaders appeared at a news conference after a morning of meetings as the two governments marked a landmark shift in their relationship with the withdrawal of American troops. In a signal of the enduring security relationship, the United States said it would supply additional F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, helping rebuild an Air Force that was destroyed by the war…. – NYT, 12-12-11
  • Obama: ‘History will judge’ Iraq war: President Barack Obama, whose opposition to the Iraq War played a key role in delivering him to the White House, declined on Monday to judge the wisdom of the difficult and divisive military campaign as he emphasized plans to bring all U.S. combat forces home by the end of the year.
    “History will judge the original decision to go into Iraq,” Obama said in response to a question at a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
    Obama said the withdrawal of U.S. troops is on track, along with a “normalization” of relations between the U.S. and Iraq.
    “After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month,” Obama declared. “This is a historic moment. A war is ending. A new day is upon us.”… – Politico, 12-12-11

President Obama Welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Source: WH, 12-12-11
Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (378MB) | mp3 (36MB)

President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to discuss the end of the Iraq war and the steps necessary to realize a new phase in the relationship between the two countries.

Since the President has taken office, nearly 150,000 U.S. servicemembers have left Iraq, and hundreds of bases have been closed. Before the end of the year, the last of our troops will cross the border and return home. After nine years, the war is over.

The President and the Prime Minister met at the White House — first for a bilateral session in the Oval Office where they were joined by Vice President Joe Biden, then for a joint press conference.

Before answering questions from reports, President Obama said:

Today, I’m proud to welcome Prime Minister Maliki — the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq. We’re here to mark the end of this war; to honor the sacrifices of all those who made this day possible; and to turn the page — begin a new chapter in the history between our countries — a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Iraq faces great challenges, but today reflects the impressive progress that Iraqis have made.  Millions have cast their ballots — some risking or giving their lives — to vote in free elections. The Prime Minister leads Iraq’s most inclusive government yet. Iraqis are working to build institutions that are efficient and independent and transparent.

Nearly 4,500 Americans lost their lives in the Iraq War. After the press conference, President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki visited the Arlington National Cemetery where they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Obama gestures while speaking in the South Court Auditorium at the White House. | AP Photo

‘We’ve got an enormous investment of blood and treasure in Iraq,’ Obama said. | AP Photo

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq in a Joint Press Conference

South Court Auditorium

12:24 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Please have a seat.  Good afternoon, everyone.

When I took office, nearly 150,000 American troops were deployed in Iraq, and I pledged to end this war, responsibly.  Today, only several thousand troops remain there, and more are coming home every day.

This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays.  In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high.  After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month.

Today, I’m proud to welcome Prime Minister Maliki — the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq. We’re here to mark the end of this war; to honor the sacrifices of all those who made this day possible; and to turn the page — begin a new chapter in the history between our countries — a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Iraq faces great challenges, but today reflects the impressive progress that Iraqis have made.  Millions have cast their ballots — some risking or giving their lives — to vote in free elections.  The Prime Minister leads Iraq’s most inclusive government yet.  Iraqis are working to build institutions that are efficient and independent and transparent.

Economically, Iraqis continue to invest in their infrastructure and development.  And I think it’s worth considering some remarkable statistics.  In the coming years, it’s estimated that Iraq’s economy will grow even faster than China’s or India’s.  With oil production rising, Iraq is on track to once again be one of the region’s leading oil producers.

With respect to security, Iraqi forces have been in the lead for the better part of three years — patrolling the streets, dismantling militias, conducting counterterrorism operations.  Today, despite continued attacks by those who seek to derail Iraq’s progress, violence remains at record lows.

And, Mr. Prime Minister, that’s a tribute to your leadership and to the skill and the sacrifices of Iraqi forces.

Across the region, Iraq is forging new ties of trade and commerce with its neighbors, and Iraq is assuming its rightful place among the community of nations.  For the first time in two decades, Iraq is scheduled to host the next Arab League Summit, and what a powerful message that will send throughout the Arab world.  People throughout the region will see a new Iraq that’s determining its own destiny — a country in which people from different religious sects and ethnicities can resolve their differences peacefully through the democratic process.

Mr. Prime Minister, as we end this war, and as Iraq faces its future, the Iraqi people must know that you will not stand alone.  You have a strong and enduring partner in The United States of America.

And so today, the Prime Minister and I are reaffirming our common vision of a long-term partnership between our nations.  This is in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations.  Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership.

Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve said that Iraqis seek democracy, “a state of citizens and not sects.”  So we’re partnering to strengthen the institutions upon which Iraq’s democracy depends  — free elections, a vibrant press, a strong civil society, professional police and law enforcement that uphold the rule of law, an independent judiciary that delivers justice fairly, and transparent institutions that serve all Iraqis.

We’re partnering to expand our trade and commerce.  We’ll make it easier for our businesses to export and innovate together.  We’ll share our experiences in agriculture and in health care.  We’ll work together to develop Iraq’s energy sector even as the Iraqi economy diversifies, and we’ll deepen Iraq’s integration into the global economy.

We’re partnering to expand the ties between our citizens, especially our young people.  Through efforts like the Fulbright program, we’re welcoming more Iraqi students and future leaders to America to study and form friendships that will bind our nations together for generations to come.  And we’ll forge more collaborations in areas like science and technology.

We’ll partner for our shared security.  Mr. Prime Minister, we discussed how the United States could help Iraq train and equip its forces — not by stationing American troops there or with U.S. bases in Iraq — those days are over — but rather, the kind of training and assistance we offer to other countries.  Given the challenges we face together in a rapidly changing region, we also agreed to establish a new, formal channel of communication between our national security advisors.

And finally, we’re partnering for regional security.  For just as Iraq has pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere in Iraq.  Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected.  And meanwhile, there should be no doubt, the drawdown in Iraq has allowed us to refocus our resources, achieve progress in Afghanistan, put al Qaeda on the path to defeat, and to better prepare for the full range of challenges that lie ahead.

So make no mistake, our strong presence in the Middle East endures, and the United States will never waver in defense of our allies, our partners, or our interests.

This is the shared vision that Prime Minister Maliki and I reaffirm today — an equal partnership, a broad relationship that advances the security, the prosperity and the aspirations of both our people.

Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve said it yourself — building a strong and “durable relationship between our two countries is vital.”  And I could not agree more.

So this is a historic moment.  A war is ending.  A new day is upon us.  And let us never forget those who gave us this chance — the untold number of Iraqis who’ve given their lives; more than one million Americans, military and civilian, who have served in Iraq; nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion; tens of thousands of wounded warriors, and so many inspiring military families.  They are the reason that we can stand here today.  And we owe it to every single one of them — we have a moral obligation to all of them — to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER AL-MALIKI:  (As interpreted, and in progress) — positive atmosphere that prevailed among us, and for the obligations, the common obligations, of ending the war, and the commitment to which the American forces will withdraw from Iraq, which is a withdrawal that affects — that indicates success, and not like others have said that it was negative, but the goals that we established were achieved.

Iraq had a political process established, a democratic process, and adoption of the principles of elections and the transfer — peaceful transfer of authority.  Iraq is following a policy, a foreign policy, which does not intervene in the affairs of others and does not allow the others to intervene in its own affairs.  Iraq is looking for common grounds with the others, and establishes its interest at the forefront and the interest of the others, which it is concerned about, like from any confusion.

Your Excellency, today we meet in Washington after we have completed the first page of a constructive cooperation in which we also thank you and appreciate you for your commitment to everything that you have committed yourself to.  And anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier.  It only started when we signed in 2008, in addition to the withdrawal treaty, the Strategic Framework Agreement for the relationship between our two countries.

And because we have proven success in the first mission, a very unique success — nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and the al Qaeda — we must also establish the necessary steps in order to succeed in our second stage, which is the dual relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement, in the economic sphere, as well as in educational and commercial and cultural and judicial and security cooperation fields.

Iraq now has become — reliant completely on its own security apparatus and internal security as a result of the expertise that it gained during the confrontations and the training and the equipping.  But it remains in need of cooperation with the United States of America in security issues and information and combating terrorism, and in the area of training and the area of equipping, which is needed by the Iraqi army.  And we have started that.  And we want to complete the process of equipping the Iraqi army in order to protect our sovereignty, and does not violate the rights of anybody — or do not take any missions that sovereignty of others.

Today, the joint mission is to establish the mechanisms and the commitments that will expedite our — we have reached an agreement, and we have held a meeting for the higher joint committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Biden, the Vice President, and myself in Baghdad, and we spoke about all the details that would put the framework agreement into implementation.

And here we talked about it and its activation.  And there will be other discussions and other meetings with the higher committee here in Washington in order to put the final touches regarding the necessary mechanisms for cooperation and achieving the common vision that we followed, which was based on our common wills and political independent decision, and the desire to respect the sovereignty of each other.

And we feel that we need political cooperation as well, in addition to cooperating in the security and economic and commercial fields.  We need a political cooperation, particularly with regard to the matters that are common and are of concern for us as two parties that want to cooperate.

The common vision that we used as a point of departure we have confirmed today.  And I am very happy, every time we meet with the American side, I find determination and a strong will to activate the Strategic Framework Agreement.  And I will say, frankly, this is necessary and it serves the interests of Iraq, as it is necessary and serves the interests of the United States of America.

This makes us feel that we will succeed with the same commitment, common commitment that we had in combating terrorism and accomplishing the missions, the basis of which Iraq was independent.  Iraq today has a lot of wealth and it needs experience and expertise, and American and foreign expertise to help Iraq exploiting its own wealth in an ideal way.  Iraq is still suffering from a shortage of resources, and we have established a strategy to increase the Iraqi wealth.  And we hope that the American companies will have the largest role in increasing our wealth in the area of oil and other aspects as well.

Iraq wants to rebuild all these sectors that were harmed because of the war and because of the adventurous policies that were used by the former regime, and we need a wide range of reform in the area of education.

We have succeeded in signing several agreements through the educational initiative, which put hundreds of our college graduates to continue their graduate studies and specialized subject in American universities.  And I am putting it before everyone who is watching the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq.  It is a very — it has very high aspirations.

And I would like to renew my thanks for His Excellency the President for giving me this opportunity, and I wish him more success, God willing.  Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We have time for a few questions.  I’m going to start with Ben Feller of AP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President, and Mr. Prime Minister.  Mr. President, I have two questions for you on the region.  In Syria, you have called for President Assad to step down over the killing of his people, but Prime Minister Maliki has warned that Assad’s removal could lead to a civil war that could destabilize the whole region.  I’m wondering if you’re worried that Iraq could be succumbing to Iran’s influence on this matter and perhaps helping to protect Assad.

And speaking of Iran, are you concerned that it will be able to weaken America’s national security by discovering intelligence from the fallen drone that it captured?

Prime Minister Maliki, I’d like to ask you the question about Syria.  Why haven’t you demanded that Assad step down, given the slaughter of his people?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  First of all, the Prime Minister and I discussed Syria, and we share the view that when the Syrian people are being killed or are unable to express themselves, that’s a problem.  There’s no disagreement there.

I have expressed my outrage in how the Syrian regime has been operating.  I do believe that President Assad missed an opportunity to reform his government, chose the path of repression, and has continued to engage in repressive tactics so that his credibility, his capacity to regain legitimacy inside Syria I think is deeply eroded.

It’s not an easy situation.  And I expressed to Prime Minister Maliki my recognition that given Syria is on Iraq’s borders, Iraq is in a tough neighborhood; that we will consult closely with them as we move forward.

But we believe that international pressure, the approach we’ve taken along with partners around the world to impose tough sanctions and to call on Assad to step down, a position that is increasingly mirrored by the Arab League states, is the right position to take.

Even if there are tactical disagreements between Iraq and the United States at this point in how to deal with Syria, I have absolutely no doubt that these decisions are being made based on what Prime Minister Maliki believes is best for Iraq, not based on considerations of what Iran would like to see.

Prime Minister Maliki has been explicit here in the United States, he’s been explicit back in Iraq in his writings, in his commentary, that his interest is maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and preventing meddling by anybody inside of Iraq.  And I believe him.  And he has shown himself to be willing to make very tough decisions in the interest of Iraqi nationalism even if they cause problems with his neighbor.

And so we may have some different tactical views in terms of how best to transition to an inclusive, representative government inside of Syria, but every decision that I believe Prime Minister Maliki is making he is making on the basis of what he thinks is best for the Iraqi people.  And everything that we’ve seen in our interactions with Prime Minister Maliki and his government over the last several years would confirm that.

With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified.  As has already been indicated, we have asked for it back.  We’ll see how the Iranians respond.

PRIME MINISTER AL-MALIKI:  (As interpreted, in progress.) — difficult in Syria, and perhaps in other states as well.  But I know that peoples must get their freedom and their will and democracy and equal citizenship.  We are with these rights, the rights of people and with their wills because we have achieved that ourselves.  And if we could compare Iraq today with the past, we find that there is a great difference in democracy and elections and freedom.

Therefore, we honor the aspirations of the Syrian people.  But I cannot have — I do not have the right to ask a president to abdicate.  We must play this role, and we cannot give ourselves this right.

Iraq is a country that is bordering on Syria, and I am concerned about the interest of Iraq and the interest of the security of the region.  And I wish that what is required by the Syrian people would be achieved without affecting the security of Iraq.  And I know the two countries are related to each other, and we must be very prudent in dealing with this matter.

We were with the initiative by the Arab League.  But, frankly speaking, because we suffered from the blockade and the military interventions, we do not encourage a blockade because it exhausts the people and the government.  But we stood with the Arab League, and we were very frank with ourselves when they visited us in Baghdad, and we agreed on an initiative.  Perhaps it will be the last initiative that we’ll see in this situation and will achieve the required change in Syria without any violent operations that could affect the area in general.

I believe that the parties, all the parties realize the dangers of a sectarian war in Iraq, in Syria, and in the region, because it will be like a snowball that it will expand and it will be difficult to control it.

We will try to reach a solution, and I discussed the matter with His Excellency, the President, President Obama, and the Secretary General of the Arab League.  And there is agreement even from the Syrian opposition, who are leading the opposition in Syria, to search for a solution.  If we can reach a solution, it will avoid all the evils and the dangers.  And if we don’t, there must be another way to reach a solution that will calm the situation in Syria and in the area in general.

Q    (As interpreted, in progress.) — establish a new relationship — to establish the characteristics of a new relationship with the United States after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq?  Relying on the Strategic Framework Agreement, have you reached a specific mechanism for the implementation of the framework agreement?

Your Excellency, President Obama, you said that there will be long-range relationships with Iraq.  Can you tell us exactly, will Iraq be an ally of the United States or just a friend, or will have a different type of relationship?

Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER AL-MALIKI:  (As interpreted.)  Definitely, without mechanisms, we will not be able to achieve anything we have.  These mechanisms will control our continuous movement.  Therefore, the framework agreement has a higher committee, or a joint committee from the two countries that meets regularly, and it has representatives from all the sectors that we want to develop relationship in — commerce, industry, agriculture, economy, security.

So the joint higher committee is the mechanism in which the ideas will be reached in relationship between the ministries that will implement what is agreed upon.  We believe through these two mechanisms, the mechanism of the joint committee and the mechanism of contact between each minister and his counterpart, we will achieve success, and this will expedite achieving our goal.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  As the Prime Minister described, I think our goal is to have a comprehensive relationship with Iraq.  And what that means is, is that on everything from expanding trade and commerce, to scientific exchanges, to providing assistance as Iraq is trying to make sure that electricity and power generation is consistent for its people, to joint exercises militarily — to a whole range of issues, we want to make sure that there is a constant communication between our governments; that there are deep and rich exchanges between our two governments — and between our peoples — because what’s happened over the last several years has linked the United States and Iraq in a way that is potentially powerful and could end up benefiting not only America and Iraq but also the entire region and the entire world.

It will evolve over time.  What may be discovered is, is that there are certain issues that Prime Minister Maliki and his government think are especially important right now — for example, making sure that oil production is ramped up, and we are helping to encourage global investment in that sector.

I know that the Prime Minister has certain concerns right now, militarily, that five years from now or 10 years from now, when the Iraqi air force is fully developed or the Iraqi navy is fully developed, he has less concern about.

Our goal is simply to make sure that Iraq succeeds, because we think a successful, democratic Iraq can be a model for the entire region.  We think an Iraq that is inclusive and brings together all people — Sunni, Shia, Kurd — together to build a country, to build a nation, can be a model for others that are aspiring to create democracy in the region.

And so we’ve got an enormous investment of blood and treasure in Iraq, and we want to make sure that, even as we bring the last troops out, that it’s well understood both in Iraq and here in the United States that our commitment to Iraq’s success is going to be enduring.

Christi Parsons.

Q    Thank you.  You were a little delayed coming out today — I was wondering if you could talk about any agreements that you may have reached that you haven’t detailed already.  For instance, can you talk a little bit more about who will be left behind after the U.S. leaves, how big their footprint will be, and what their role will be?

And, Mr. President, could you also address how convinced you are that the Maliki government is ready to govern the country and protect the gains that have been made there in recent years?  I also wonder if, on this occasion, you still think of this as “a dumb war”?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I’ll take the last question first.  I think history will judge the original decision to go into Iraq.  But what’s absolutely clear is, as a consequence of the enormous sacrifices that have been made by American soldiers and civilians — American troops and civilians — as well as the courage of the Iraqi people, that what we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self-governing, that is inclusive, and that has enormous potential.

There are still going to be challenges.  And I think the Prime Minister is the first one to acknowledge those challenges. Many of them, by the way, are economic.  After many years of war and, before that, a brutal regime, it’s going to take time to further develop civil society, further develop the institutions of trade and commerce and the free market, so that the extraordinary capacity of the Iraqi people is fully realized.  But I have no doubt that Iraq can succeed.

With respect to security issues, look, when I came into office, I said we’re going to do this in a deliberate fashion.  We’re going to make sure that we leave Iraq responsibly, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.  We did it in phases.  And because we did it in phases, we were continually able to build up Iraqi forces to a point where when we left the cities, violence didn’t go up in the cities; when we further reduced our footprint, violence didn’t go up.  And I have no doubt that that will continue.

First question you had had to do with what footprint is left.  We’re taking all of our troops out of Iraq.  We will not have any bases inside of Iraq.  We will have a strong diplomatic presence inside of Iraq.  We’ve got an embassy there that is going to be carrying out a lot of the functions of this ongoing partnership and executing on the Strategic Framework Agreement.

We will be working to set up effective military-to-military ties that are no different from the ties that we have with countries throughout the region and around the world.  The Iraqi government has already purchased F-16s from us.  We’ve got to train their pilots and make sure that they’re up and running and that we have an effective Iraqi air force.

We both have interests in making sure that the sea lanes remain open in and around Iraq and throughout the region, and so there may be occasion for joint exercises.  We both have interests in counterterrorism operations that might undermine Iraqi sovereignty but also could affect U.S. interests, and we’ll be working together on those issues.

But what we are doing here today, and what we’ll be executing over the next several months, is a normalization of the relationship.  We will have a strong friend and partner in Iraq; they will have a strong friend and partner in us, but as one based on Iraqi sovereignty and one based on equal partnerships of mutual interest and mutual respect.  And I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to be able to execute that over the long term.

While I’m at it, since this may be the last question I receive, I just want to acknowledge — none of this would have been successful, obviously, without our extraordinary men and women in uniform.  And I’m very grateful for the Prime Minister asking to travel to Arlington to recognize those sacrifices.

There are also some individuals here who’ve been doing a bang-up job over the last year to help bring us to this day.  And I just want to acknowledge General Lloyd Austin, who was a warrior and, turns out, is also a pretty good diplomat — as well as Ambassador Jim Jeffreys [sic].  Both of them have done extraordinary work on the ground, partnering with their Iraqi counterparts.

And I’m going to give a special shout-out to my friend and partner, Joe Biden, who I think ever since I came in has helped to establish high-level, strong links and dialogue between the United States and Iraq, through some difficult times.  And I think Prime Minister Maliki would agree that the Vice President’s investment in making this successful has been hugely important.

PRIME MINISTER AL-MALIKI:  Thank you very much.  I believe the remaining of the question that was given was answered by His Excellency the President.  And I also — I said at the beginning, the dialogues that were to confirm the confidence and to move into the implementation of the framework agreement, and to find the companies and to train our soldiers on the weapons that were bought from America, and the need for expertise in other civil fields, and the protection of their movement in Iraq.

We talked also about the political issues, which is a common interest for us.  And we spoke also about the question of armament.  As the President said, Iraq has bought some weapons and now is applying for buying other weapons to develop its capabilities in the protection of Iraq.

These are all titles of what we discussed, but it was done in an atmosphere of harmony.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Mr. Prime Minister, you stated that there is cooperation in the area of armament.  Can you tell us the amount of military cooperation between the United States and Baghdad in this area?  Specifically, have you received any promises from President Obama in this regard, specifically — of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad?  There is argument going on inside Iraqi politician now regarding the size — it’s 15,000.  And I wonder if you discussed with Prime Minister to reduce the number of the diplomats.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER AL-MALIKI:  Definitely, we have raised the issue of Iraqi need for weapons, for aerial protection and naval and ground protection.  We have a lot of weapons, American weapons, and it requires trainers.  And we received promises for cooperation from His Excellency the President for some weapons that Iraq is asking for, especially those related to its protection of its airspace.  And we hope that the Congress will approve another group of F-16 airplanes to Iraq because our air force was destroyed completely during the war that Iraq entered into.

And this is not all.  We also need technical equipment related to the security field.  These are issues that are being discussed by the concerned people in both countries, between the ministers of defense and interior, with their counterparts in the United States, and we received promises and facilitations.  And we agreed on how to make this relationship continuous in the security field, because both of us need each other and need cooperation, especially in chasing al Qaeda, which we started and was not defeated anywhere except in Iraq.  And we hope to cooperate with all those who feel the dangers of this organization — to cooperate with us as well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Our view is a sovereign Iraq that can protect its borders, protect its airspace, protect its people.  And our security cooperation with other countries I think is a model for our security cooperation with Iraq.  We don’t want to create big footprints inside of Iraq — and that’s I think demonstrated by what will happen at the end of this month, which is we’re getting our troops out.  But we will have a very active relationship, military-to-military, that will hopefully enhance Iraqi capabilities and will assure that we’ve got a strong partner in the region that is going to be effective.

With respect to the embassy, the actual size of our embassy with respect to diplomats is going to be comparable to other countries’ that we think are important around the world.  There are still some special security needs inside of Iraq that make the overall number larger.  And we understand some questions have been raised inside of Iraq about that.

Look, we’re only a few years removed from an active war inside of Iraq.  I think it’s fair to say that there are still some groups, although they are greatly weakened, that might be tempted to target U.S. diplomats, or civilians who are working to improve the performance of the power sector inside of Iraq or are working to help train agricultural specialists inside of Iraq.  And as President of the United States, I want to make sure that anybody who is out in Iraq trying to help the Iraqi people is protected.

Now, as this transition proceeds, it may turn out that the security needs for our diplomats and for our civilians gradually reduces itself, partly because Iraq continues to make additional progress.  But I think the Iraqi people can understand that, as President of the United States, if I’m putting civilians in the field in order to help the Iraqi people build their economy and improve their productivity, I want to make sure that they come home — because they are not soldiers.

So that makes the numbers larger than they otherwise would be, but the overall mission that they’re carrying out is comparable to the missions that are taking place in other countries that are big, that are important, and that are friends of ours.  Okay?

Thank you very much, everybody.

END
1:04 P.M. EST

White House Recap October 21-28, 2011: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Obama Created Executive Action to Grow the Economy & Create Jobs — Ended the War in Iraq & Urged Congress to Pass the American Jobs Act

White House Recap October 21-28, 2011: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Obama Created Exceutive Action to Grow the Economy & Create Jobs — Ended the War in Iraq & Urged Congress to Pass the American Jobs Act

 

WHITE HOUSE RECAP

WHITE HOUSE RECAP: OCTOBER 21-28, 2011

This week, the President kept his promise and announced the end of the war in Iraq, headed west to urge Congress to pass the American Jobs Act while announcing new executive actions that will help middle class families.

West Wing Week

Weekly Wrap Up: “We Can’t Wait”

Source: WH, 10-28-11
Helping Homeowners After Republicans in the Senate blocked the jobs bill yet again, President Obama hit the road with a new message,“We Can’t Wait.” The President decided to take executive action to create jobs and put money back in the pockets of Americans. While in Las Vegas, the President announced steps to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, helping responsible borrowers with little or no equity in their homes take advantage of today’s low mortgage rates.

Modifying Student Loans On a snowy day in Colorado, President Obama announced a new effort that will help borrowers better manage their student loan debt. He said he will move forward with A “Pay As You Earn” program that will reduce monthly payments for more than 1.6 million people. Starting in 2014, borrowers will be able to reduce their monthly student loan payments from 15 percent to 10 percent of their discretionary income.

Hiring Veterans The Obama Administration challenged each of the 8,000 Community Health Centers around the country to hire one veteran, effectively opening up 8,000 jobs to our unemployed veterans. These health centers, which provide primary care services in typically underserved areas, are a major piece of President Obama’s historic health care reform law.

We The People On Wednesday, President Obama’s top education advisors issued the first response to a petition created through the online petition site, We The People. The response addressed the petition “Taking Action to Reduce the Burden of Student Loan Debt”. The Administration recognized the high cost of education and moved forward to reduce monthly loan payments formore than1.6 million people. The online tool that allows Americans to voice their opinions to the government has had around755,000 people use the platform to create or sign more than 12,400 petitions.

Tonight Show The President flew to L.A. to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The two talked about Libya, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and reality television — including a show on C-SPAN called ‘Congress.’

White House Recap October 15-21, 2011: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Barack Obama’s Bus Tour to NC & VA Supporting the American Jobs Act — Obama Addresses Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Dedication & Announces End of Iraq War & Return of All Troops

WHITE HOUSE RECAP

WHITE HOUSE RECAP: OCTOBER 15-21, 2011

Weekly Wrap Up: Bringing Home the Troops

Source: WH, 10-21-11

This week, the President traveled to Detroit with the President of South Korea, dedicated the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, embarked on a three day American Jobs Act bus tour, bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal.

West Wing Week
Download Video: mp4 (202MB)

Home for the Holidays Friday afternoon the President announced that the remaining  troops in Iraq will be officially coming back home, thus ending the war in Iraq. “Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq—tens of thousands of them—will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq—with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”

Road Trip President Obama embarked on a three day bus tour to spread the word about the American Jobs Act. Starting the journey in Asheville, NC and ending in North Chesterfield, VA, he also made stops in Millers Creek, NC, Jamestown, NC, Emporia, VA and Hampton, VA.The President visited schools, an airport, a military base, and a fire station along the way all of which will benefit from the American Jobs Act. On the last day of the tour, the First Lady joined the President at Joint Base Langley-Eustis announcing a commitment from the private sector to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses. The jobs bill would put Americans back to work, upgrade our country’s infrastructure, and keep teachers and emergency responders on the job.

Citizens Award Tuesday in the East Room, the President honored 13 Americans with the Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors a civilian can receive. The award is given to Americans who have “performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” The recipients chosen to receive this year’s medal were nominated by the public, and then carefully selected by the White House. Click here to learn more about the recipients and to watch a video showing their reactions to the news that they’d been chosen.

“We Will Overcome” Tens of thousands came to the National Mall Sunday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication. President Obama, joined by the First Family, toured the memorial and then spoke at the dedication ceremony in honor of Dr. King’s work. During his speech, President Obama reminded us that the progress towards Dr. King’s vision has not come easily and there is still more to do to expand opportunity and make our nation more just:“We can’t be discouraged by what is.  We’ve got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and that if we maintain our faith, in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.”

MLB support U.S. Veterans As a part of their Joining Forces Initiative, the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, for Game One of the World Series to meet with military families and to recognize Major League Baseball’s support of those who serve and their families. Earlier that day, the First Lady announced at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia a commitment from the private sector to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses.

Cutting Waste As a part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, the White House recently updated the Excess Property map that uses new data to pinpoint the location and status of federal properties that agencies have targeted for closure and consolidation. Ending this waste and improving the management of the government’s real estate will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Full Text October 22, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address on Strong US World Leadership, the Death of Libyan Dictator Moammar Qaddafi & End of Iraq War

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama discusses how the death of Moammar Qadhafi in Libya and the announcement that troops from Iraq will return home by the end of the year are strong reminders that the United States has renewed its leadership in the world.

President Barack Obama tapes his Weekly Address
President Barack Obama tapes the weekly address, White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson, 10/21/11

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

WEEKLY ADDRESS: Renewing America’s Global Leadership

In this week’s address, President Obama said that the death of Moammar Qadhafi in Libya and the announcement that troops from Iraq will return home by the end of the year are strong reminders that the United States has renewed its leadership in the world.  The role of our brave pilots and crews has given the Libyan people a chance to seek a democratic future for their children, and after a decade of war in Iraq, the United States is moving forward and focusing on strengthening the economy and security at home.  This is why the President is calling on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, give working families a tax break, and put teachers back in our classrooms and cops on the beat.  We must bring the same sense of urgency to revitalizing our economy that our troops took to their fight, which is why President Obama is urging Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass the American Jobs Act now to put the American people back to work.

Remarks of President Barack Obama Weekly Address The White House October 22, 2011

This week, we had two powerful reminders of how we’ve renewed American leadership in the world.  I was proud to announce that—as promised—the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of this year.  And in Libya, the death of Moammar Qadhafi showed that our role in protecting the Libyan people, and helping them break free from a tyrant, was the right thing to do.

In Iraq, we’ve succeeded in our strategy to end the war.  Last year, I announced the end of our combat mission in Iraq.  We’ve already removed more than 100,000 troops, and Iraqi forces have taken full responsibility for the security of their own country.  Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, the Iraqi people have the chance to forge their own future.  And now the rest of our troops will be home for the holidays.

In Libya, our brave pilots and crews helped prevent a massacre, save countless lives, and give the Libyan people the chance to prevail.  Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives.  Soon, our NATO mission will come to a successful end even as we continue to support the Libyan people, and people across the Arab world, who seek a democratic future.

These successes are part of a larger story.  After a decade of war, we’re turning the page and moving forward, with strength and confidence.  The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus on Afghanistan and achieve major victories against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  As we remove the last of our troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.

To put this in perspective, when I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in these wars.  By the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and an increasing number of our troops will continue to come home.

As we end these wars, we’re focusing on our greatest challenge as a nation—rebuilding our economy and renewing our strength at home.  Over the past decade, we spent a trillion dollars on war, borrowed heavily from overseas and invested too little in the greatest source of our national strength—our own people.  Now, the nation we need to build is our own.

We have to tackle this challenge with the same urgency and unity that our troops brought to their fight.  That’s why we have to do everything in our power to get our economy moving again.  That’s why I’m calling on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, so we can rebuild our country – our schools, our roads, our bridges – and put our veterans, construction workers, teachers, cops and firefighters back to work.   And that’s why I hope all of us can draw strength from the example of our men and women in uniform.

They’ve met their responsibilities to America.  Now it’s time to meet ours.  It’s time to come together and show the world why the United States of America remains the greatest source for freedom and opportunity that the world has ever known.

Full Text October 21, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Speech Announcing The End of the War in Iraq & the Pullout of all American Troops by the End of the Year

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Keeping his promise to responsibly end the war in Iraq, President Obama announces that our troops will be home from Iraq by the holidays.

President Obama on ending the war in Iraq President Obama delivers remarks on ending the war in Iraq, White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson, 10/21/11

President Obama Has Ended the War in Iraq

Source: WH, 10-21-11

In 2008, in the height of the presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama made a promise to give our military a new mission: ending the war in Iraq.

As the election unfolded, he reiterated this pledge again and again — but cautioned that we would be “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”

Last year, the President made progress toward achieving that goal. He brought an end to the combat mission in Iraq, and through the course of the past 14 months, more than 100,000 troops have returned to their families.

Now, that promise will be wholly fulfilled. Today, President Obama announced that the rest of our troops will be home by the holidays:

Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq—tens of thousands of them—will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq—with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.

But this moment represents more than an accomplishment for the President. It marks a monumental change of focus for our military and a fundamental shift in the way that the our nation will engage in the world:

The United States is moving forward, from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home. As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world. And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits, and the opportunities that they have earned.

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President on Ending the War in Iraq

 

Remarks by the President on Ending the War in Iraq

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

CORRECTION:  “Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.”
12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end — for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world.  After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011.

As Commander-in-Chief, ensuring the success of this strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities.  Last year, I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq.  And to date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops.  Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security.

A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.  I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments.  He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future.  We are in full agreement about how to move forward.

So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.  After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq — tens of thousands of them — will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.  The last American soldier[s] will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.  That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.

But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.  As of January 1st, and in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, it will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

In today’s conversation, Prime Minister Maliki and I agreed that a meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement will convene in the coming weeks.  And I invited the Prime Minister to come to the White House in December, as we plan for all the important work that we have to do together.  This will be a strong and enduring partnership.  With our diplomats and civilian advisors in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable.  We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people.  We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty.

As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces — again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world.  After all, there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.  Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization.

Here at home, the coming months will be another season of homecomings.  Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families.  Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

This December will be a time to reflect on all that we’ve been though in this war.  I’ll join the American people in paying tribute to the more than 1 million Americans who have served in Iraq.  We’ll honor our many wounded warriors and the nearly 4,500 American patriots — and their Iraqi and coalition partners — who gave their lives to this effort.

And finally, I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition.  The tide of war is receding.  The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership — including Osama bin Laden.  Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.  When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars.  And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and make no mistake:  It will continue to go down.

Meanwhile, yesterday marked the definitive end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.  And there, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future.  Today, NATO is working to bring this successful mission to a close.

So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength.  The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year.  The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.  As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world.  And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they have earned.

This includes enlisting our veterans in the greatest challenge that we now face as a nation — creating opportunity and jobs in this country.  Because after a decade of war, the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own; an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we’ve restored our leadership around the globe.

Thank you very much.

END           12:55 P.M. ED

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