“Let me say this as plainly as I can,” the president told thousands of Marines stationed here. “By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”Some in the media have pointed out that this will take longer than the 16 months President Obama talked about during the campaign, but he always said that was flexible based on what his military advisers told him, and he also war clear that he would leave behind a residual force (just as he was clear that he'd likely send more troops to Afghanistan) - so all the talk about broken campaign promises is bunk. His anti-war credentials as a candidate came from his early documented opposition to going into Iraq in the first place, not for wanting to pull out overnight (no matter how much the media and the McCain campaign wanted it to seem that way).
The “transitional force” he will leave behind will no longer participate in major combat missions but instead train and advise Iraqi security forces, hunt down terrorist cells and protect American civilian and military personnel working in Iraq. Mr. Obama promised that all of them will leave as well by December 2011 in accordance with a security agreement with Iraq negotiated by President George W. Bush before he left office last month.
At the same time, Mr. Obama vowed to continue the American commitment to building a new Iraqi society and to resettling millions of displaced Iraqis still away from home — elsewhere in their own nation or in neighboring countries. And he promised to escalate diplomatic involvement in the broader region, including new lines of communication with Iran and Syria.
“Every nation and every group must know — whether you wish America good or ill — that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East,” the president said. “And that era has just begun.”
The announcement marked a sharp turning point in the American venture in Iraq, one that signaled a shift in the once-fiery political debate at home and in the nation’s priorities abroad. The choice of Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, symbolized the transition because 8,000 troops from here will soon ship out to Afghanistan as part of a 17,000-troop buildup ordered by Mr. Obama.
The reaction to the Iraq drawdown plan indicated an emerging consensus in the United States that it is time to begin getting out. While some leading Congressional Democrats grumbled about the size of the residual force, the drawdown largely won support across party lines, including from leading Republicans like Senator John McCain of Arizona, who lost year’s election to Mr. Obama after a fierce debate over Iraq.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday before the president’s speech, Mr. McCain credited the opportunity to pull troops out to the surge that Mr. Bush ordered two years ago with his support. But he cautioned that Iraq remains fragile, urging Mr. Obama to remain flexible and listen to military commanders.
“With these factors in mind, I believe the president’s withdrawal plan is a reasonable one,” Mr. McCain said. “Given the gains in Iraq and the requirements to send additional troops to Afghanistan, together with the significant number of troops that will remain in Iraq and the president’s willingness to reassess based on conditions on the ground, I am cautiously optimistic that the plan as laid out by the president can lead to success.”
Former Bush aides also offered support for the plan, calling it the logical next step after the president’s agreement with Iraq to withdraw all forces by the end of 2011. “The specific timing is only slightly different but consistent with the goal of helping Iraq become self sufficient in providing its own security,” Gordon D. Johndroe, who was Mr. Bush’s last national security spokesman, said in an interview. “This is possible because of the success of the surge.”
Mr. Obama called Mr. Bush from a holding room at Camp Lejeune just before going on stage in the base gymnasium to make the announcement, aides said. He called Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq from Air Force One on the flight from Washington to brief him on the withdrawal plan.
In Baghdad, Yassen Majeed, an adviser to Mr. Maliki, said the prime minister “is very comfortable with the plan.”
“The Prime Minister assured the American president that the security situation in Iraq is stable and his forces are ready to take over all the responsibilities from the American side.”
However, questions over the size of the residual force are entirely fair (I'm sure Xanthippas will have commentary on this later), but we do not know yet what the exact size of it will be nor the Obama's administration full plan in using them until the Dec. 31st, 2011 end date for all U.S. forces agreed to with Iraq last year.
In the meantime, I think we have cause to celebrate what is at least the beginning of the end of this disastrous and stupid war in Iraq. And we should certainly be glad it is President Obama and not President McCain in charge.