With the constant horse race coverage of the upcoming presidential election, and our government on the verge of yet another shutdown, let’s take a moment to reflect on the eight-year war in Iraq. More than 1.5 million U.S. troops served. Over 30,000 have been wounded and nearly 4,500 have died. All too often, the debate about the Iraq War revolves around the politics of the war. Was it a war of choice or a war of necessity? Were the right questions asked before going in? With billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, was it justified? These are all good questions that require an honest debate. But in doing so, we must not lose sight of the great sacrifice our troops and their families have endured for nearly nine years.
This brings me to President Obama’s speech to U.S troops at Fort Bragg, NC. “As your commander-in-chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to finally say these two words…welcome home,” President Obama said. With the final combat troops set to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, this speech was designed to honor their dedication and sacrifice. This was a well-crafted and delivered speech. It wasn’t rousing or filled with unnecessary rhetorical flourishes and platitudes. President Obama spoke in a serious tone. He spoke like a man that genuinely understands the burden of war on military families. He had the authentic sound of a commander-in-chief that has had to make hundreds of painful phone calls to military families to mourn the loss of their loved ones in battle. “Let us give a heartfelt round of applause for every military family that has carried that load over the last nine years, you too have the thanks of a grateful nation,” he said.
He went on: “because you sacrificed so much for a people you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right.” This reminded me of what many voters saw in candidate Obama in 2008. He has a unique ability to speak about American Exceptionalism not in a chest-thumping way, but in an emotionally appealing way. In a way that reminds the country of its shared values and national character. That there is no problem we cannot solve if we come together. Our troops remind us of that. We owe them our heartfelt gratitude for their patriotism and selfless determination to serve a cause greater than themselves. As we welcome them home from Iraq, let us remember to say a prayer for all the families that lost loved ones in the war.