Commentary: Despite Obama's pledge, our Iraq commitment hasn't ended

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramAugust 8, 2010 

This should be a day of jubilation in America, but I can't rejoice over the latest news about Iraq.

President Barack Obama, in a Monday speech to disabled veterans, reminded us of a pledge he made as a candidate.

"I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," he said. "Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule."

That news definitely pleases me because it means that by the end of this month, more than 90,000 U.S. troops will have left Iraq since the president took office, and hundreds of bases have been closed or turned over to Iraqis.

Still, it is not a time to celebrate.

When I consider that more than 1 million Americans have served in this ill-advised and totally unnecessary war since 2003, I am reminded that more than 4,400 of them died and thousands more were severely damaged.

Too many troops have come home changed forever, having joined the ranks of "disabled veterans" who will wear the physical and emotional scars of war until they die.

A record number of troops have returned from that conflict suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, and last year there were 160 military suicides, with attempted suicides occurring at a rate of five a day, higher than the civilian rate for the first time in history.

The president has kept his promise -- "and on schedule" -- but it's too bad this combat mission could not have ended much sooner considering all we have been able to accomplish, or not, in that country.

In his speech, Obama gave another reason why it is far too early to begin the celebration, noting that while the "combat mission" was ending, about 50,000 American military personnel will remain in Iraq to continue training Iraqi forces to protect and defend their homeland.

"The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq," the president said. "But make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing -- from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."

The real truth is that those Americans remaining in Iraq will continue to be targets for the enemy. We can only hope that Iraqi forces are capable enough, and loyal enough, to quell the ongoing violence, and that the country's dysfunctional government eventually will get its act together.

That is a lot to hope for.

Although U.S. fatalities are down significantly in Iraq this year, Americans continue to die. There have been just over 40 deaths so far in 2010, compared with more than 800 a year between 2004 and 2007.

But as American deaths have declined in Iraq, they have spiked in Afghanistan, which is now the longest war in U.S. history. Sixty Americans were killed there in June and 66 in July. By comparison, only 12 U.S. troops were killed there in the first year of the war (2001), and 49 died in 2002.

Almost 100,000 American troops are in Afghanistan, and they face renewed resistance from the Taliban while intensifying their efforts to root out insurgents in heavily populated areas.

By the end of next year, we're told, those forces will start coming home. We'll see if the president is able to keep that promise -- "and on schedule."

I won't be able to rejoice until all American troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll live to see that day.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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