Obama: Tide of War Receding at ‘Crossroads of History’
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2011 “The tide of war is receding” as the United States draws down forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, poised to end both conflicts from a position of strength, President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly in New York today.
Noting the devastation of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the president reported strides made during the past 10 years with al-Qaida “under more pressure than ever before.”
“Its leadership has been degraded, and Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again,” he said.
After a difficult decade, “we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace,” Obama said.
The president reported progress as the United States works toward closing the chapter on two wars that were under way when he took office.
“Today we’ve set a new direction,” he said, noting that America’s military operation in Iraq will conclude by the year’s end.
“We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations,” he said. “That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq, for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. and its coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan that by 2014 will pass security responsibility there to “an increasingly capable Afghan government and security forces,” he said.
By the end of this year, the number of Americans deployed in the combat zone will be about half of the 180,000 who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2009, he said.
“It will continue to decline,” the president said. “This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also critical to the strength of the United States, as we build our nation at home.”
Obama recognized the past year as “a time of extraordinary transformation” around the world. “More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security, and more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity,” he said.
But, noting the reversible nature of progress and fragility of peace, Obama said the United Nations and its member states “must do their part to support those basic aspirations -- and we have more work to do.”
As part of that effort, he urged member nations to continue working to promote human rights abroad and to work together to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Obama underscored America’s commitment to meeting its obligations and strengthening the treaties and institutions to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But he also emphasized the world community’s responsibility to hold accountable nations such as Iran and North Korea that flout their responsibilities.
“The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, it has not met its obligations, and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power,” he said. “North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the south.”
Obama called for the world community to apply greater pressure on and isolate these nations if they continue down their current paths.
Looking more broadly, Obama urged the U.N. members to recognize the importance of addressing the root causes of war in their continued efforts to secure peace.
The president repeated former President Franklin Roosevelt’s observation at one of the very first U.N. sessions. “We have got to make not merely peace,” Roosevelt told the delegation, “but a peace that will last.”