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Senator Barack Obama: The Lessons of the Iraq War


Senator Barack Obama: The Lessons of the Iraq War

Senator Barack Obama

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama on the Iraq War
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Senate Floor

On Thursdays, Senator Durbin and I hold a constituent coffee so we can hear from the folks back home. A young man came a few months ago who was about 25, 26 years old. He had been back from Iraq for a year. The first months of that year he spent in a coma. An explosion had shattered his face, blinded him in both eyes, and has left him without the use of one arm.

He told us about how he was going through rehab, and he introduced us to his family. He has a wife and two young daughters like I do, and his wife talked for a bit about the adjustments they were making at home since dad got hurt.

And I found myself looking at not just him, but at his wife, who loves him so much, and I thought about how their lives were forever changed because of the decision that was carried out four years ago.

Immeasurable Sacrifices of War

The sacrifices of war are immeasurable.

I first made this point in the fall of 2002, at the end of the speech I gave opposing the invasion of Iraq. I said then that I certainly do not oppose all wars, but dumb wars – rash wars. Because there is no decision more profound than the one we make to send our brave men and women into harm’s way.

I’ve thought about these words from time to time since that speech, but never so much as the day I saw that young man and his wife.

The sacrifices of war are immeasurable. Too many have returned from Iraq with that soldier’s story – with broken bodies and shattered nerves and wounds that even the best care may not heal.

Too many of our best have come home shrouded in the flag they loved. Too many moms and dads and husbands and wives have answered that knock on the door that’s the hardest for any loved one to hear.

And the rest of us have seen too many promises of swift victories, and dying insurgencies, and budding democracy give way to the reality of a brutal civil war that goes on and on and on to this day.

The sacrifices of war are immeasurable. It was not impossible to see back then that we might arrive at the place we’re at today.

Invasion of Iraq Without Clear Reason or Support

I said then that a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics would lead to a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

I believed that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale or strong international support would only strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda and erode the good standing and moral authority that took our country generations to build. There were other experts, and leaders, and everyday Americans who believed this too. (See Barack Obama's Stirring 2002 Speech Against the Iraq War.)

I wish we had been wrong. I wish we weren’t here talking about this at the beginning of the war’s fifth year. Because the consequences of this war have been profound. And the sacrifices have been immeasurable.

Failure of Strategy, Not Failure of Resolve

Those who would have us continue this war in perpetuity like to say that this is a matter of resolve on behalf of the American people.

But the American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded on the streets of Fallujah. They have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this effort – money that could have been devoted to strengthening our homeland security and our competitive standing as a nation.

No, it has not been a failure of resolve that has led us to this chaos, but a failure of strategy – a strategy that has only strengthened Iran’s strategic position; increased threats posed by terrorist organizations; reduced U.S. credibility and influence around the world; and placed Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in the region in greater peril.

Iraq has not been a failure of resolve, it has been a failure of strategy – and that strategy must change. It is time bring a responsible end to this conflict is now.

No Military Can Win Iraq War

There is no military solution to this war. No amount of U.S. soldiers – not 10,000 more, not 20,000 more, not the almost 30,000 more that we now know we are sending– can solve the grievances that lay at the heart of someone else’s civil war.

Our troops cannot serve as their diplomats, and we can no longer referee their civil war. We must begin a phased withdrawal of our forces starting May 1st, with the goal of removing all combat forces by March 30th, 2008.

We also must make sure that we’re not as careless getting out of this war as we were getting in, and that’s why this withdrawal should be gradual, and keep some U.S. troops in the region to prevent a wider war and go after Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

But it must begin soon. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Iraqis to take ownership of their country and bring an end to their conflict. It is time for our troops to start coming home.

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