“My fellow Americans, today marks the end of America’s involvement in combat operations in Iraq. Our operational forces have withdrawn with honor from the field, leaving behind a free, if troubled democracy secure in its own borders, presenting no threat to its neighbors. Some 50,000 trainers and special operations forces remain in Iraq. They will help to sustain the victories we have labored so hard to earn in partnership with the vast majority of the Iraqi people. In nature of things, some of them may end up in combat, and some may yet die. But as a country, we have done what we can do, for better or worse. The destiny of Iraq now lies with the Iraqi people. We will continue to support them in their fight for freedom, but the fight is now theirs.
The war in Iraq has cost the United States and its closest allies nearly 5000 lives, and wounded many tens thousand soldiers whose debt we cannot ever fully repay. It has cost our treasury the better part of a trillion dollars. It has cost the Iraqi people untold tens of thousands of lives. Through our sacrifices we have liberated 25 million minds from grinding tyranny. I am not entirely sure that it was worth it.
As most of you know, I opposed my predecessor’s plan for the invasion of Iraq. I thought that decision was wrong. I thought then, and continue to believe now, that the war was fought on questionable premises. I believed that this was a war of choice, when – in my opinion – war ought to always be fought only of necessity. Despite the brilliance of our military campaign to overthrow the thuggish and dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein, I remained unconvinced that sufficient planning had gone in to what would happen after the regime had been destroyed. Today, I remain unsure whether the gains we have achieved are worth the cost we have borne, and the casualties we have inflicted. If nothing else, we have learned the limits of military power. After such costly expenditures of blood and treasure, this was hard won knowledge.
But let me be clear: A great nation undertook a great campaign against great evil. We did so through the democratic processes enshrined in our constitution. We did so out of the best intentions, if perhaps with limited foresight and imperfect intelligence. My administration will continue to endeavor to ensure that no such mistake can ever again be made, while also seeking to ensure that our sacrifices were not in vain.
Let me also make something else clear: My predecessor, nearly alone in perhaps all the world, remained convinced of the necessity to see the conflict in Iraq through to a successful resolution, just as he remained convinced that our military could, in conjunction with freedom loving people, find a way to precisely target al Qaeda, train the security forces of our Iraqi hosts and create the conditions for an honorable withdrawal of American combat power. Some labeled this stubbornness, some determination. I have come to learn that the distinction between the two is very much in the eye of the beholder.
As a presidential candidate 2007, I believed that all hope was lost in Iraq, that nothing much more could be expected of our forces than to redeploy them home. I thought it would be necessary for us to find some way to tolerate the consequences of our misadventure, consequences that I admitted might amount to genocide.
I was wrong.
Our armed forces fought valiantly under tremendously exceptionally challenging conditions, and without the united support of the people they defend, support that they deserved. They fought with unprecedented courage and humanity. Those that died in the effort gave their last full measure of devotion to the prospect that others might win the advantages that most us take for granted.
The vast majority of the Iraqi people rejected the tyranny of fear that al Qaeda and its affiliates threatened to impose and export, bravely facing death to vote for their own future, when everything in their history taught them to hunker down, to hide, to grovel. Rarely in human history have so many braved so much in the face of such implacable barbarity. It is not easy for us, who were given freedom as a birthright, to appreciate the sacrifices of those who have plucked it from the fire.
Iraq today is a far better and more hopeful place than it was in 2002. A great evil evil has been eliminated. Whether the gains we have forged will be worth the pain we have both endured and afflicted is not yet clear. It may not be clear for decades. History does not stand still.
But I am now convinced that we have done what we could reasonably hope to do. We pass the torch of freedom to the Iraqi people, even as we remain committed to supporting their successes. But although we remain engaged, we cannot commit ourselves further than they will commit themselves. We have at great cost removed from them the past boot of tyranny. We have given them their present. It is up to them to decide what kind of future they will craft for themselves and for their children. Where their aspirations align with our values, we will endeavor to assist them. But the fight for freedom is now theirs to fight, just as our fight for our freedom belongs to us. We wish them every success.
May God bless the people of Iraq, and may God bless America.”