President Obama declared this week an end to the seven-year U.S. combat mission in Iraq. But 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq in an advisory capacity -- still very much in harm's way.
This war is far from over. Yet, the steps taken to get U.S. soldiers and Marines out of Iraq are necessary and welcome. Control of Iraq must be turned over to the Iraqi people.
This war has not gone as U.S. officials had planned or hoped. The U.S. generals who warned of lingering troubles were ignored by politicians.
But once the U.S. began bombing Baghdad there was no turning back. The United States had a responsibility to rebuild the nation and leave it with a stable government. Progress has been made over the past seven years.
Still, it's taken too long and too many lives have been lost.
Obama, in his prime-time address to this nation from the Oval Office, praised the troops who fought and died in Iraq but made it clear he thought getting into the conflict had been a mistake in the first place.
"We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home," Obama said. "Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it's time to turn the page."
The U.S. plan is to keep about 50,000 troops in Iraq until next summer and then begin a quick withdrawal to get them all out before the end of 2011. The agreement between Iraq and the U.S. -- signed by the Bush administration -- established this timetable and Obama aims to stick with it.
Obama signaled the war in Afghanistan would also be winding down. Security for that nation will be turned over to the Afghans next summer. This, too, will be a difficult and dangerous process, but it must be done.
In his speech, Obama acknowledged Bush's efforts regarding Iraq, adding nobody could doubt the former president's "support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security."
Obama wisely sought to bridge the political divide on this issue and focus attention on what he accurately describes as pressing problems at home -- the lousy economy and escalating debt.
We have spent over a trillion dollars at war (over the past decade), often financed by borrowing from overseas," Obama said. "And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad."
The fighting in Iraq is not yet over for American troops, but the step taken this week is a significant one toward turning Iraq over to the Iraqis.