Full Text Political Headlines February 7, 2013: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta’s Testimony & Statement on the Attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya before the Senate Armed Services Committee

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Statement on the Attacks on the US Facilities in Benghazi, Libya before the Senate Armed Services Committee

Source: DOD, 2-7-13

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Washington, D.C., Thursday, February 07, 2013

Chairman Levin, Senator Inhofe, members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the terrorist attacks on our facilities in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012.

Before I go into my testimony, let me just state my deepest thanks to all of you for the support and friendship that I’ve had with all of you on both sides of the aisle.  I’ve had the honor to live the American Dream as the son of Italian immigrants in the various capacities that I’ve had to serve this country.  The greatest privilege I think I’ve had is to serve as an elected member in the House and had the opportunity to work with many of you in that capacity, and then as member of the executive branch had the opportunity to work with you, as well.  I thank you for your dedication to the country, and I thank you for your willingness to serve the United States.

On that tragic day, as always, the Department of Defense was prepared for a wide range of contingencies.  I remind you that the NCTC in the six months prior to that attack identified some 281 threats to U.S. diplomats, diplomatic facilities, embassies, ambassadors and consulates worldwide — and obviously Benghazi was one of those almost 300 areas of concern.

But, unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on that — U.S. facilities in Benghazi.  And frankly without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond.  That’s not just my view or General Dempsey’s view.  It was the view of the Accountability Review Board that studied what happened on that day.

In the months since the tragedy at the temporary mission facility in the nearby Annex in Benghazi, we’ve learned that there were actually two short duration attacks that occurred some six hours apart.  And again, there was no specific intelligence that indicated that a second attack would occur at the Annex which was located some two miles away.

The bottom line is this, that we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault, which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response, very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region.  Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.  Despite the uncertainty at the time, the Department of Defense and the rest of the United States government spared no effort to do everything we could to try to save American lives.  Before, during and after the attack, every request the Department of Defense received we did, we accomplished.  But, again, four Americans’ lives were lost, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that, that does not happen again.

The four Americans who perished in Benghazi, Ambassador Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and the security personnel, all were heroes, and all were patriots.  I had the opportunity to join the president, Secretary Clinton and other officials at Andrews Air Force Base for the dignified transfer ceremony when those bodies of those heroes were returned home, and I had the opportunity to meet with their families.  I believe we all have a solemn responsibility for the families and to the personnel who put themselves at risk to find out exactly what happened, to bring those involved to justice and to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to prevent it from happening again and to ensure the safety of our personnel and facilities worldwide.

To that end, the Department of Defense has fully supported efforts by the Congress and the State Department to review the events and decisions surrounding the attacks in Benghazi.  We have made every effort to respond promptly to numerous requests for additional information, to provide briefings, to provide testimony to members and committees in the Congress.  In fact, General Dempsey and I were among the very first U.S. government senior officials to brief Congress on this tragedy.

We appeared before this committee on September 14th, 2012, three days after the attack, and provided the best information we had at that point as to what had taken place.  Additionally, the Defense Department participated in classified briefings and answered questions from the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security Oversight Committees, even when we were not called to testify.  We’ve also provided all requested support to the Accountability Review Board that was co-chaired by Ambassador Pickering and by Admiral Mullen.

Based on the information we compiled and the reviews that we conducted, let me describe for you DOD’s response to the events on September 11th, some of the lessons that we’ve learned and the adjustments we are making to our global force posture given continuing unrest throughout North Africa and the Middle East.  In fact, in many places, if we get the heads up that we need, the changes we made have already resulted in early decisions to deploy additional security or withdraw diplomatic staff in the advance of a crisis, from Central America to Khartoum, from Tunisia to Yemen, from Egypt to Mali and others.

While DOD does not have the primary responsibility for the security of U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world, we do work closely with the State Department and support them as requested.  In the months prior to the Benghazi attack, as I’ve said, we had received from the intelligence community almost 300 reports on possible threats to American facilities around the world.  Over the course of the day on September 11th, General Dempsey and I received a number of reports of possible threats to U.S. facilities, including those in Cairo, Egypt.  But there were no reports of imminent threats to U.S. personnel or facilities in Benghazi.

By our best estimate, the incident at the temporary mission facility in Benghazi began at about 3:42 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on September 11th.  The Embassy in Tripoli was notified of the attacks almost immediately, and within 17 minutes of the initial reports, about 3:59 p.m., AFRICOM directed an unarmed and unmanned surveillance aircraft that was nearby to reposition overhead the Benghazi facility.  My understanding is that that UAV arrived about an hour and 11 minutes after the attack had begun and was focused on the primary facility there to try to determine what was taking place.

Soon after the initial reports about the attack in Benghazi were received, General Dempsey and I met with President Obama and he ordered all available DOD assets to respond to the attack in Libya and to protect U.S. personnel and interests in the region.  It’s important to remember that in addition to responding to the situation in Benghazi, we were also concerned about potential threats to U.S. personnel in Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo, Sana’a, and elsewhere that could potentially require a military response.

In consultation with General Dempsey and AFRICOM Commander General Ham, I directed several specific actions.  First, we ordered a Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism Secure Team, a FAST team, stationed in Spain to prepare to deploy to Benghazi.  A second FAST platoon was ordered to prepare to deploy to the embassy in Tripoli.  A special operations force, which was training in central Europe, was ordered to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe, Sigonella.  And a special operations force based in the United States was ordered to deploy to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe as well at Sigonella.

Some have asked why other types of armed aircraft were not dispatched to Benghazi.  The reason simply is because armed UAVs, AC- 130 gunships or fixed-wing fighters, with the associated tanking, you’ve got to provide air refueling abilities;  you’ve got to arm all the weapons before you put them on the planes; targeting and support facilities, were not in the vicinity of Libya.  And because of the distance, it would have taken at least nine to 12 hours, if not more, to deploy these forces to Benghazi.  This was, pure and simple, in the absence, as I said of any kind of advance warning, a problem of distance and time.

Frankly, even if we were able to get the F-16s or the AC-130s over the target in time, the mission still depends on accurate information about what targets they’re supposed to hit.  And we had no forward air controllers there.  We had no direct no communications with U.S. personnel on the ground.  And as a matter of fact, we had no idea where the Ambassador was at that point to be able to conduct any kind of attacks on the ground.

The quickest response option available was a Tripoli-based security team that was located at the embassy in Tripoli.  And to their credit, within hours, this six-man team, including two U.S. military personnel, chartered a private airplane deployed to Benghazi.  Within 15 minutes of arriving at the Annex facility, they came under attack by mortar and rocket-propelled grenades.  Members of this team, along with others at the Annex facility, provided emergency medical assistance and supported the evacuation of all personnel.  Only twelve hours after the attacks had begun, all remaining U.S. government personnel had been safely evacuated from Benghazi.

Looking back, our actions in the immediate aftermath of these attacks have been subject obviously to intense scrutiny and review.  But let me share with you the conclusion of the Accountability Review Board, which I believe accurately assessed the situation.  And I quote:

“The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time, given the speed of the attacks, for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.  Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks, and continued throughout the night.  The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision- making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders.  Quite the contrary:  the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack, and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base, was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response, and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.”

Still, after all of that, it is clear that there are lessons to be learned here and steps that must be taken to ensure that we’re doing everything possible to protect our personnel and our facilities abroad.  So, in concert with the State Department and the intelligence community, we are in the process of developing enhanced security for U.S. personnel and facilities in the wake of Benghazi.  There will always be a tension between mission effectiveness for personnel — the ability to get out and do what they’re supposed to do in these countries — and their physical security.

We’re committed to steps that avoid a bunker mentality, and yet we still must afford greater protection from armed attack.  We’re taking steps along three tracks.  First, host nation capacity.  We have been able to better assess and build up the capabilities of host governments to provide security for U.S. personnel and facilities.  The fact it, as you all know, that our embassies and consulates depend on host country personnel to provide the first line of security.  And this episode raises concerns about the ability of some newly established or fragile governments to properly secure U.S. diplomatic facilities.

To address these concerns, we are working with the State Department in considering how DOD can better help host nations enhance the security provided to our diplomatic facilities.  Where permissible and appropriate, and in collaboration with the Secretary of State and the U.S. Chief of Mission in the affected country, we believe that the Defense Department can assist in their development using a range of security assistance authorities to train and equip those forces in the host country, and we are doing exactly that.

Secondly, we have to enhance diplomatic security.  We’ve got to harden these facilities and we, again, are working with the State Department to try to reassess diplomatic security overall.  To determine what changes may be required, we assisted the State Department in the deployment of an interagency security assessment team to evaluate the security level at 19 vulnerable diplomatic facilities, including our embassy in Libya.  And we’re in the process of developing recommendations on potential security increases as required.

As part of this review, we have also considered how the role, mission and resourcing of the Marine security guards could be adapted to respond to this new threat environment.  In the near term, we’ve agreed with the Department of State to add 35 new Marine Security Guard detachments — that’s almost 1,000 Marines — over the next two and three years, in addition to the 152 detachments that are in place today.  We’re working with State to identify those specific locations for the new detachments, and we will identify any necessary resource and force structure adjustments in order to support this initiative.

Although there was not a Marine Security Guard detachment posted to the Benghazi Temporary Mission Facility, based on our review of all Embassy security incidents that occurred in September of 2012.  In Tunis, in Cairo, in Khartoum and in Sana’a, we have initiated coordination with the Department of State to expand the Marines’ role beyond their primary mission of protecting classified information.

As some of you know, their primary mission is not providing outside security.  Their primary mission is to protect classified information.  But we believe that we can try to augment their role into terms of providing greater security protection as well.  This could include the expanded use of non-lethal weapons, additional training and equipment to support the Embassy Regional Security Officer’s response options when host nation’s security force capabilities are at risk of being overwhelmed.

The third area is enhanced intelligence and military response capacity.  We are focused on enhancing intelligence collection and ensuring that our forces throughout the region are prepared to respond to crisis if necessary.

The United States military, as I’ve said, is not and, frankly, should not be a 9-1-1 service capable of arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world.  The U.S. military has neither the resources nor the responsibility to have a fire house next to every U.S. facility in the world.

We have some key bases, particularly in this region.  We have some key platforms from which we can deploy.  And we have forces on alert, and we’re prepared to move.  But our ability to identify threats, to adjust posture, to prevent plots, and respond to attacks to our personnel at home and overseas depends on actionable intelligence — and it always will.

Therefore, we’re working with the State Department and the intelligence community to ensure that our collection and analysis is linked with military posture and planning.  We’re working to enhance our intelligence collection to improve the responsiveness of contingency assets and to adjust the location of in-extremis reaction forces.  At the same time, we’re working closely with State to ensure they have our best estimate of response times for each at-risk diplomatic facility so that they can make the best informed decisions about adjustments to their staff presence in areas of increased security threat.

We’ve deployed key response forces abroad.  We have reduced their response time.  But let me again say to you that even those forces that are on a tight alert time of N-plus-two — notice plus two hours — to be able to on a plane.  Once those forces are put on airlift, it still requires many hours in that part of the world to fly distances, long distances in order to be able to respond.

I firmly believe that the Department of Defense and the U.S. Armed Forces did all we could do in the response to the attacks in Benghazi and employed every asset at our disposal that could have been used to help save lives of our American colleagues.  We will support efforts to bring those responsible to justice, and we are working with the task force involved and headed up by the FBI to do just that.

As I said going forward, we intend to adapt to the security environment, to ensure that we’re better positioned and prepared to support the Department of State in securing our facilities around the world.  But in order to be able to effectively protect the American people and our interests abroad at a time of instability, we must have an agile and ready force able to quickly respond.  And above all — and forgive me for being repetitious — we have got to end the cloud of budget uncertainty that hangs over the Department of Defense and the entire U.S. government.

I’ve got to use this opportunity to express, again, my greatest concern as Secretary.  Frankly, one of the most greatest security risks we are now facing as a nation, that this budget uncertainty could prompt the most significant military readiness crisis in more than a decade.

The Department of Defense faces the prospect of sequestration on March 1st.  If Congress fails to act, sequestration is triggered.  And if we also must operate under a year-long continuing resolution, we would be faced with having to take about $46 billion-plus out of the defense budget and we would face a $35 billion shortfall in operating funds alone for our active forces, with only a few months remaining in the fiscal year.

Protecting the warfighters, protecting the critical deployments we have, we’re gonna have to turn to the one area that we have in order to gain the funds necessary, and that’s readiness.  It’s maintenance.  This will badly damage our national defense and compromise our ability to respond to crises in a dangerous world.

The responsibility of dealing with this crisis obviously rests with the leadership of the nation.  I know the members of this committee share the deep concerns that I’ve raised about sequestration, and, obviously, I urge you to do whatever you can to try to avoid this threat to our national defense.

The State Department and the intelligence community, obviously, also must be provided the resources they need in order to execute the missions that we expect of them — including the enhancements that I’ve described today.

Whatever steps are required to be taken to properly posture U.S. forces for possible emergency response operations, those steps would be seriously impacted by the readiness crisis caused by uncertain resources.

We have a responsibility — and I take that responsibility seriously — to do everything we can to protect our citizens.  That responsibility, however, rests with both the executive branch and the Congress.  If we work together, we can keep our Americans safe.

Advertisements

Political Headlines February 7, 2013: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s Testimony at Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Benghazi, Libya Terror Attack

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Panetta: Budget Cuts Threaten Security

Source: ABC News Radio, 2-7-13

State Department photo

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday that the automatic budget cuts prescribed in the sequestration legislation would undermine the Department of Defense’s ability to fulfill its responsibility to protect American citizens.

“This will badly damage our national defense and compromise our ability to respond to crises in a dangerous world,” Panetta told senators at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“The responsibility to protect our citizens rests with both the administration and the Congress,” Panetta said….READ MORE

Political Headlines January 10, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Cabinet Shuffle: Who Is Leaving, Who Was Asked to Stay

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama’s Cabinet Shuffle: Who Is Leaving, Who Was Asked to Stay

Source: ABC News Radio, 1-10-13

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

With the departure of Hilda Solis at the Labor Department, we have now seen five members of the President Obama’s Cabinet announcing their intention to leave since the election: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and now, Secretary of Labor Solis.

Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has also long suggested he would not stay for a second term.

At least three other cabinet secretaries have been asked to stay as the Obama begins his second term:

  • Attorney General Eric Holder
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki

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

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

April 28, 2011: President Obama Announces New National Security Team

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

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.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 4/28/11

IN FOCUS: OBAMA NAMES NEW NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM

  • Officials: Obama to shuffle national security team: The White House says President Barack Obama will make personnel announcements Thursday, and officials tell The Associated Press the president will unveil a major shuffling of his national security team…. – AP, 4-28-11
  • A look at Obama’s new national security team: The main figures in President Barack Obama’s national security shuffle….
    LEON PANETTA, 72…
    GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, 58…
    RYAN CROCKER, 61…
    MARINE CORPS LT. GEN. JOHN R. ALLEN, 57 –
    AP, 4-28-11
  • Obama’s day: A new war council: This afternoon, Obama will unveil a national security team, formally nominating CIA Director Leon Panetta to be the new secretary of Defense to replace the retiring Robert Gates. Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, will move to the CIA to replace Panetta. USA TODAY notes that Obama “may be reshuffling his national security team, but he’s sticking to the same game plan: fighting insurgents and terrorists with a closely coordinated military-intelligence complex.”… – USA Today, 4-28-11
  • >In one stroke, a new Obama national security team: The reshuffled national security team President Barack Obama introduced on Thursday will be charged with fighting not only the overseas war in Afghanistan but also budget battles on the home front over Pentagon spending that has ballooned into a fat target for deficit hawks. His own re-election campaign approaching, Obama turned to a cast of familiar and respected officials for the most sweeping reworking of his national security team since the opening weeks of his presidency. He invoked the political upheaval and violence roiling the Middle East, the nearly 10-year-old Afghan war and the hard cost-cutting decisions ahead as the country tries to reduce its crushing debt.
    “Given the pivotal period that we’re entering, I felt that it was absolutely critical that we had this team in place so that we can stay focused on our missions, maintain our momentum and keep our nation secure,” Obama said at the White House…. – AP, 4-28-11
  • Panetta and Petraeus in Line for Top Security Posts: President Obama will reshuffle his national security team on Thursday, naming Leon E. Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as defense secretary and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, to lead the C.I.A., administration officials said Wednesday. The appointments, set in motion by the impending retirement of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, are the most significant realignment of Mr. Obama’s war council and could have important implications for the American strategy in Afghanistan as well as for the troubled relationship with Pakistan…. – NYT, 4-27-11
  • Obama sending Panetta to Pentagon, Petraeus to CIA: In a major national security reshuffle, President Barack Obama is sending CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Pentagon to replace Robert Gates, a widely praised Bush holdover, and replacing Panetta at the spy agency with Gen. David Petraeus, the high-profile commander of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Obama’s changes, expected to be announced at the White House on Thursday, also will include a new ambassador and war commander in Afghanistan. However, they don’t signal any major adjustment in the president’s Afghan strategy or the fight against violent extremism. The moves cement a planned drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July and allow Obama to replace Gates, a Republican, with a Democrat with partisan credentials. That appointment also diminishes speculation that Petraeus might become a Republican presidential challenger in 2012…. – AP, 4-27-11
  • President Obama Announces New Members of his National Security Team: I want to begin by saying a few words about the devastating storms that have ripped through the southeastern United States. The loss of life has been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama. In a matter of hours, these deadly tornadoes, some of the worst that we’ve seen in decades, took mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, even entire communities. Others are injured and some are still missing, and in many places the damage to homes and businesses is nothing short of catastrophic.
    We can’t control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it. And I want every American who has been affected by this disaster to know that the federal government will do everything we can to help you recover. And we will stand with you as you rebuild….
    Still, we confront urgent challenges. In Iraq we’re working to bring the rest of our troops home as Iraqis secure their democracy. In Afghanistan we’re moving into a new phase, transferring responsibility for security to Afghan forces, starting to reduce American forces this summer, and building a long-term partnership with the Afghan people.
    As people across the Middle East and North Africa seek to determine their own destiny, we must ensure that America stands with those who seek their universal rights, and that includes continuing to support the international effort to protect the Libyan people. And here at home, as we make the hard decisions that are needed to reduce America’s debt, we cannot compromise our ability to defend our nation or our interests around the world…. – WH, 4-28-11Transcript
%d bloggers like this: