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'Turning the page'

Seven years after George W. Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, President Obama proclaimed a more justifiable benediction to the U.S. venture: "I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended."

In his Oval Office address Tuesday night, Obama surveyed the course of one of the nation's longest wars, which cost more than $700 billion and took the lives of 4,400 U.S. soldiers and more than 70,000 Iraqis.

The early euphoria over the easy toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime quickly evaporated as Iraq descended into anarchy and sectarian violence that tested the resources of the U.S. military and diverted attention from the terrorist threat centered in Afghanistan.

Although Bush's dreams of planting a new democracy remained elusive and the mission became more one of the nation-building he had disdained, massive infusions of military force and changes in strategy succeeded in tamping down the violence and allowing the Iraqis to make progress toward establishing a stable, representative government.

Obama lauded these efforts and pledged that the United States remained committed to Iraq's future although he was vague about specifics.

Hewing to a lofty tone, the president was unstinting in his praise of the U.S. armed forces and was especially gracious to Bush, whose impetuousness precipitated this war of choice and whose miscalculations prolonged it and deepened the misery of the Iraqi people.

But Obama, who opposed the war from the outset, argued for closing that debate and moving on to new challenges, especially on the home front where domestic needs have been shortchanged by the burdens of military adventure and the balky economy weighs on the citizenry.

The Iraq chapter is indeed ending for Americans -- or, more accurately, fading, because risks and responsibilities remain. "Mission Accomplished" still doesn't ring true for Iraqis, but achieving that goal is primarily their task now.


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