As of this week, 4,475 American servicemen and women have paid the ultimate price in Iraq. Among them: 28 Montanans who died as heroes. More than 32,000 other U.S. troops have returned home wounded. And we may never be able to fully count those who struggle with injuries we cannot see.
Our nation has been at war in Iraq for nearly nine years — longer than our involvement in both world wars combined. In addition to the sacrifice of thousands of Americans, the price tag is approaching $1 trillion — as much as $60 billion of that was stolen or wasted on ill-conceived reconstruction projects. All of it is a cost that has been put on our children.
That’s why I’m calling on President Obama to stick to his previous commitments as well as the Status of Forces agreement signed by President Bush, which calls for all Operation New Dawn troops to come home from Iraq by Dec. 31 of this year. Under this agreement, our nation would continue to maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Iraq. And U.S. Marines would guard our embassy as they always have. But the war finally ends.
Despite this agreement, there is talk of possibly keeping thousands of American troops in Iraq into next year. That’s moving the goal post. And it is unacceptable.
Keeping thousands of Americans in Iraq would needlessly put their lives in danger. It would cost future generations untold money. And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
The war in Iraq started with politicians who had their own agenda. They went there looking for weapons that never existed. They sent American troops there with dangerously inadequate armor. Through it all, the professionalism of our military never faltered. They provided security and democracy to a nation that had never known it.
Now, Iraq has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy. Iraq’s new leaders must solve their problems for their own people. They must understand that American forces will not be there forever.
Some say the future of our military involvement in Iraq should be determined only by commanders on the ground. But I believe it is our responsibility as elected leaders to make sure that every minute of every mission is worthy of the sacrifice of men and women in uniform.
Our military has always done exactly what’s asked of them.
It’s time for America’s soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors to come home from Iraq. It’s time for our nation to honor them as veterans by making sure we deliver the benefits and care they earned and deserve.
And it’s time for all of us to say to all of them: Thank you for a job well done.
(Jon Tester. a Democrat, is the junior senator from Montana.)