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Thursday, January 14,2010

Obama, one year later

An evaluation of the president's first year

By BoulderWeekly.com

The Middle East

It’s been a focal point of violence since before the Roman Empire forcefully expanded its borders to the region thousands of years ago. It’s been witness to conquests and crusades, but also to somuch culture that’s helped shape the world.

In the lead-up to the 2008 election, it was also the focal point on the campaign trail for Barack Obama.

The Middle East. Two wars raging — one, in Iraq, in need of scaling back, and another, in Afghanistan, in need of ramping up, at least according to Obama during his campaign.

In July 2008, the then-presidential candidate said “combat troops” could be out of Iraq by the summer of 2010. It would become the crux of his campaign.

“I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president,” Obama wrote in an op-ed piece published in The New York Times that summer. He put a 16-month timetable on withdrawing troops after he took office. Still, he cautioned, “As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”

Yes, the war in Iraq continues. But on Feb. 27 of last year, President Obama formally announced the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, and a “transition to full Iraqi responsibility” by Aug. 31.

The deadline was three months later than promised in his campaign, but at least it was a steadfast date.

“Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end,” Obama said in a speech at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Still, the president plans to keep 35,000-50,000 troops — down from roughly 140,000 — through 2011 to help train local troops through the transition. Is this another “Mission Accomplished” moment, or will this move actually help move toward accomplishing the mission? Hard to say.

Meanwhile, the threat in Afghanistan has grown. In 2009, the combat there saw nearly twice as many deaths (300) as Iraq (148) — yet the U.S. force in Afghanistan is less than half that of the one currently occupying Iraq.

First in a speech he gave in August 2007, and then reiterated again and again on the campaign trail, Obama promised to deploy two additional brigades to the country. Last month, he ordered an additional 30,000 troops to the region.

When the build-up is complete by the end of this year, it will bring the total U.S. force in Afghanistan to around 100,000.

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