Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
President Obama Delivers Oval Office Address on Iraq
Aired August 31, 2010 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
Just a little while ago, combat missions in Iraq ended for the United States. We're only a minute or so away from President Obama's addressing the country from the Oval Office. We have reporters standing by around the globe.
Joining us now from New York, CNN's Anderson Cooper -- Anderson.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, here with me to watch President Obama's address and discuss it is CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Peter Bergen, and David Gergen, and our reporters overseas, Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Chris Lawrence at Camp Liberty in Iraq, and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's in Pakistan tonight, but has been to Iraq numerous times, even operated on the battlefield there -- a critical moment for the president.
What happens next in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East? We will talk about all of that in the hour ahead -- now back to Wolf.
BLITZER: This is a dramatic moment, Anderson, for the president of the United States.
He won't only speak about Iraq. He will make the transition, address the war in Afghanistan as well. And then he will wind up with issue number one for most Americans right now, not the war in Iraq, not the war in Afghanistan, but the war here at home on the economy, the loss of jobs.
The president will make the connection between jobs, the economy, what's going on in the wars. He has a lot to address. He's in the Oval Office now getting ready to address the American people from that venue, only the second time since he took office about a year-and-a- half or so ago.
Here is the president.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening.
Tonight, I would like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home. I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans. We've now been through nearly a decade of war. We've endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms the future that we're trying to build for our nation -- a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity -- may seem beyond our reach.
But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.
From this desk, seven-and-a-half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.
These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America's longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides: At every turn, America's men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve.
As commander-in-chief, I am incredibly proud of their service. And like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice and by the sacrifices of their families.
The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future.
They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi security forces, and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians --and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people -- Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.
So tonight I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.
This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's security forces and support its government and people. That's what we've done.
We've removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We've closed or transferred to the Iraqis hundreds of bases. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq. This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq's cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens.
Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al Qaeda, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.
This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election.
Tonight, I encourage Iraq's leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people.
And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: The Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not.
Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq's security forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.
As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisers -- are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. That's a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.
This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq, one based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.
Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians, and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals.
Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do -- and will do -- is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.
Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest; it's in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. 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. We've persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people, a belief that, out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibilities. Now it's time to turn the page.
As we do, I'm mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it's time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush's support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security.
As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women and our hopes for Iraqis' future.
The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.
Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what's at stake.
As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders -- and hundreds of Al Qaeda's extremist allies -- have been killed or captured around the world.
Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who -- under the command of General David Petraeus -- are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That's why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan's problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin -- because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's.
Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power -- including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America's example -- to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes, a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.
Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners. New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas. A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict. As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction -- we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.
That effort must begin within our own borders. Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our own liberty and security. But we have also understood that our nation's strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation's long-term competitiveness is put at risk.
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. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for -- the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.
Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jump-start industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.
Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor. As long as I am President, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That is why we have already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We are treating the signature wounds of today's wars, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned.
And we are funding a post-9/11 G. I, Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education. Just as the G. I. Bill helped those who fought World War II -- including my grandfather-- become the backbone of our middle class, so today's servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy. Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.
Two weeks ago, America's final combat brigade in Iraq -- the Army's Fourth Stryker Brigade -- journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.
Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from their families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband's embrace or a mother's kiss.
Most painfully, since the war began 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice, part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq.
As one staff sergeant said, "I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot."
Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. Along with nearly 1. 5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations --war -- and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.
In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation. Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar -- Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own.
Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her. BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking for just about 18 minutes or so from the Oval Office, making the case for the end of this war in Iraq, although the fighting, no doubt, will continue -- 50,000 U.S. troops still remain on the ground. They will be there until the end of next year at least.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, the president says, is over. The Iraqi people now have the lead responsibility for the security of their country.
We're here with complete analysis. All of our reporters and analysts here in Washington, in New York and around the world are standing by, as is CNN's Anderson Cooper -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Wolf, the president speaking for about 18 minutes or so, roughly 30 paragraphs in his speech, only two of them really devoted to the war in Afghanistan, when he made that turn, pointing out that by next July they will begin what he called the transition to Afghan responsibility, begin some sort of a drawdown.
David Gergen, what did you make of it?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I have frequently praised Barack Obama and his speeches. And I think they have been clear, understandable, and very, very well-written.
I found this one perplexing. I didn't quite understand what the point was. I found that not only did he omit talking the surge and giving credit to President Bush.
COOPER: He made one passing reference to the surge...
COOPER: ... Afghanistan.
GERGEN: But it wasn't clear what the mission is, either in Iraq or in Afghanistan going over -- it seems to -- going forward -- it seems to be much more we're getting this monkey off our back. We gave it our best shot. Over to you, Iraqis. Over to you next year, Afghans.
COOPER: Yes, and the two paragraphs that he talked about Afghanistan, the second one was largely about getting out of Afghanistan and handing things over to the Afghans -- Fareed.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think, Anderson, what he was trying to do -- I didn't -- I reacted, as David did, to the style of the speech, the substance. It was -- for an eloquent president, this was remarkably workmanlike.
But I think it was an intelligent speech, in that he was balancing various problems. He was trying to mark the end of military combat in Iraq, signal a commitment politically to Iraq, signal a determination to keep a capacity in Afghanistan, and then pivot to the economy, which is, of course, the central issue on the minds of the American voter, particularly as he heads into an election.
COOPER: And that, of course, is the contradiction of the policy in Afghanistan, to signal a commitment to Afghanistan and at the same time say, by the way, in July, we're starting to draw down.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. And that's been interpreted as we're getting out in the region. So, everybody is making their accommodations, whether it's the Pakistanis or the Afghans, you know, taking money out of the country, thinking that we're heading for the exits.
BLITZER: What did you make of the speech?
BERGEN: I thought it was good. On the Afghan side, he's talked about conditions-based, which is exactly what he said at West Point when he announced the new policy.
It's an enormous caveat that can be interpreted lots of different ways. The military, I think, is interpreting it, we're not going to be heading very quickly for the exits. The political side of the White House is more like, well, that's actually a real drawdown.
ZAKARIA: You know, what was striking about this was this was President Obama speaking, not candidate Obama and not Senator Obama. He praised the idea of nation-building in Iraq. He praised the idea of spreading democracy in Iraq. He talked about conditions-based withdrawal.
These are all terms that were more associated with the more hawkish elements of the Democratic Party and indeed with President George W. Bush.
COOPER: And we have correspondents standing by around the globe and also back down in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Anderson, the president did mention his conversation with the former President George W. Bush briefly, noting that, yes, he disagreed with the former president about going into Iraq to begin with, but he says now it's time to turn the page.
Gloria Borger is here. John King is here.
There was no praise of the former president for initiating the so-called surge back in 2007 that helped turn the tide.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, but I do think what the president was trying to do was heal the divisions in this country about the war in Iraq. It's been the most divisive political issue that we have had.
And I think he said, definitively, now it is time to turn the page. And in doing so, I think he was talking to Democrats as much as anybody, because he was saying, look, you know, even I disagreed with George W. Bush, but don't -- no one can challenge his commitment to the troops or his commitment to the nation.
BLITZER: And his patriotism.
BORGER: And his patriotism. And that is to Democrats who may well say the same about Barack Obama one day, those who oppose the war in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: I was struck, John, by the different audiences the president was trying to reach, 18 minutes from the Oval Office, but people all over the world were watching. Yes, he was addressing first and foremost the American people, but he also sent a powerful message to the Iraqis, to the Afghans, to the entire Middle East, and, indeed, to the entire world.
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": And I think one of the fascinating questions after is how is it interpreted, because you can read it where he says, we will be partners with Iraq even when we are gone. You will have our support. We will be partners with Afghanistan, but we can't have open-ended are war, so we have to start to draw down.
You can take that as conditions-based withdrawal, we will be your friend, or as Peter Bergen just said, it is often interpreted in the region, in part because this president when he talks about these things doesn't speak with the emphasis and the energy about it and in different settings -- and President Bush did this often in other settings -- that President Bush had.
And to his own party, this is a welcome message. We're not having open-ended war. We're going to get out. But how it is interpreted around the world I think is open to a question, because when this president says these things in a paragraph or two, many say, well, is it a political statement or does he really mean it?
BLITZER: Our correspondent Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. She listened together with a lot of other Iraqis, U.S. military personnel, some 50,000 still in Iraq, as well as a lot of Iraqis.
How is this likely, Arwa, to play in Iraq?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we hear the president talking about turning a page, but for Iraqis, come morning, their lives are really going to be the same.
They still don't have a new government. They are very aware of the fact that this political impasse could potentially lead to more violence. They are still coping with the after-effects of the sectarian violence here that did, in fact, rip this country apart.
So many Iraqis have lost loved ones. They still live in a state of anxiety, of uncertainty about the future. They don't want the Americans to stay forever. Of course, they don't. But there are those who are questioning the timing of this drawdown, especially given how fragile this nation is at this point in time, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, stand by. We will be getting back to you. We're also going to go to Camp Liberty in Iraq. Our own Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has spent the day with troops, U.S. troops in Iraq.
Also, John King, he will be over at the magic mall, Sanjay Gupta on operating on the battlefield. We will speak with Sanjay.
Much more of our special coverage of President Obama's Oval Office address coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So, tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was President Barack Obama's second Oval Office address to the nation, just about 18 minutes long, ended just a few minutes ago.
Chris Lawrence has been in Iraq for the last several days, embedded with U.S. military forces.
He joins us now from Camp Liberty.
Chris, what -- in -- in the final days, as you spent it, with U.S. service members, what has the mood been?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, some of the hardest parts of this war were really fought by the lieutenants and the captains, the specialists and the sergeants.
And, really, it's -- to think of grand themes like a stable Iraqi government, Iraq's place in the world, those are probably too big for any one soldier or Marine to grapple with. A lot of what the soldiers I was talking with were talking about were, they feel that, over the past few years, they have seen the Iraqi forces grow. You know, they see a change from the days when they couldn't even get the Iraqi troops to stand watch or conduct even very simple missions. They said now they have more respect for the Iraqi forces.
I know when I was talking to them back in 2003 and 2004, there was a lot of distrust. Now you're seeing them living together and more respect for what the Iraqi troops have done. It's been an emotional ride for some of these soldiers. Some of them are now on their fourth deployment here. That means over the last seven years, there are soldiers here who have spent the majority of their lives over the last seven years right here in Iraq. The days when the streets were literally run red with blood. And for them, they can look back just a few years and say it's not like that. I don't know what it's going to be, but it's not like that and they do see some improvement here. COOPER: Chris, stay safe. Let's go back to John King at the magic wall.
John, give us a sense of where U.S. troops are in Iraq, have been, and are going to be now that the combat mission is officially over.
KING: It's a great question. We'll do. First, let's look at the history of the Iraq war.
U.S. troop levels in Iraq back early on February 2004, about 114,000. The surge begins in 2007, 137,000. Remember this point, this is the peak, just shy of 170,000 in 2007, and you see the drop since then to just under 50,000 Chris Lawrence has talked about right there. That is, today, in Iraq.
So back at the height of the surge, this is what it looked like. You see all these badges with the American flag. These are all the American military bases and installations all around Iraq at the height of the surge, 2007, again, just shy of 270,000 troops.
Now, though, the country will be divided in three parts just like this and you have six "advise and assist" brigades they call them. The president says they're not combat troops but they can get involved in combat operations and counterinsurgency operations. Two "advise and assist" brigades in the south. Two in the middle which has Baghdad and the al Anbar province where there have been problems in the past and two in the north. So essentially divide the country and free, Anderson, two "advise and assist" brigades in each. Also, some special forces operations, special forces available to the commanders if they need it.
BLITZER: Is it, John, just coincidental that the northern part of the country, the Kurds, the sort of central part, the Sunnis, a lot of the Shia in the south, it looks like they're sort of dividing up the country according to ethnic groups.
KING: That is not an accident in part because you have these different troops that the rules, we could debate whether we should have gone to Iraq and history will debate that forever, it did change the rules of counterinsurgency where these units get in and mingle with the locals. They try to build trustful relations with the locals. So you have these units now assigned essentially as you put it by ethnic regions. So these units have developed relationships with the Kurds. And the Sunnis and the Shia and so on throughout the country, that is part of the Petraeus strategy. Now there'll be a new commander tomorrow after General Odierno leaves. General Austin will take over and that is part of the strategy. Build ties in your community.
BLITZER: You know, it's amazing to think about it because, you know, we were there in Kuwait back in 2003, March, when the U.S. moved in. When you think about the seven years, more than a million U.S. troops came in and out of Iraq, but some never did really come out alive. KING: Some didn't. And we have a special feature, "home and away" we call it at CNN.com. And anybody, regardless of your position on going to war in Iraq, these are heroes and many of them, as Wolf just noted, were left behind. At CNN.com/homeandaway, you can go and you can pick.
This is in Anbar province we just mentioned here. And you see if you tap on Anbar province -- I'm going to close this again and come on in -- if you tap on Anbar province, it will tell you 330 casualties over the seven-plus years of war in Iraq and you can run through them along the side and you can find out about this captain, Ross Stahlman, 46 years old, hometown right here near Washington. Colonel, I'm sorry, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, died on October 2008. Back here in Bethesda of injuries suffered. So you can tap on the thing there.
You can also come over to the United States and tap on a community and find out how many casualties were in a community. Salisbury, Maryland, the smaller community out of the eastern shore, two out there. If you move out to the Midwest, you can find more. And as this happens you can also go, you can find out maybe somebody from your hometown. Maybe you want to look at a particular place in Iraq. Another remarkable thing you can do using this "home and away" is if you find someone from your community. Maybe you knew them. Maybe they were just a neighbor. You can write your own tribute and post it on CNN.com/homeandaway and sort of our way of building this remarkable library.
And this Iraq I'm showing you now. You can go over to Afghanistan as well.
BLITZER: We're showing 4,734 U.S. and coalition casualties dead, 4,400 or so them being Americans.
KING: Absolutely. And you can track the others around the world. If you're watching anywhere else in the world or you have friends and relatives or ties with some other country around the world that had troops in Iraq or Afghanistan at some point, you can find those as well.
BLITZER: Let's not forget the pain and the suffering that this war has caused. Let's go back to you, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Wolf, Peter, let's talk a little about the uptick in violence that we've seen or these very public acts of violence we have seen recently in Iraq.
BERGEN: Al Qaeda and Iraq, a lot of people were deterring the obituary of Al Qaeda in Iraq but, you know, it's proven to be pretty -- it's got some life left in it. I mean, just last week we saw 13 attacks in one day killing more than 50 people across the country and, unfortunately, as the American presence draws down, that doesn't hurt the insurgency.
COOPER: And they're targeting in some cases or in many cases those who had been on these awakening councils, Sunnis who had turned against Iraq. BERGEN: Right.
COOPER: Turned against Al Qaeda.
BERGEN: Right. And they're also, you know, hitting government ministries right in central Baghdad. So when the president says correctly that the violence is at the lowest levels it's ever been, unfortunately the violence was at such stratospheric levels back two or three years ago that that's a pretty low bar to get over it.
ZAKARIA: And this violence that you're seeing now is fundamentally related to the most difficult problem in Iraq that we are leaving behind which is that you have a Shiite majority government that has largely excluded the Sunnis. That is producing Sunni resentment which is at some level being translated into this kind of extremist violence. We do not have a diverse government in Iraq that represents all interests. We have been trying. As Vice President Biden has made six trips to Iraq including this one, most of them devoted precisely to this point. But somehow our waning military strength is correlated with waning political influence because we have not been able to get Prime Minister Maliki to cut a decent deal with the Sunnis to bring them in.
COOPER: So if part of the idea of the surge or really the big idea behind the surge was to create an environment in which a political framework, a political system could be developed, was the surge not successful in that sense?
ZAKARIA: There's no question that if that was the metric you would have used, the surge was not successful. The surge was successful in reducing violence. It also coincided with the Sunni awakening which we're talking about, which is basically that the bad guys or a bunch of the bad guys flipped sides.
COOPER: Would the awakening have happened without the surge in troops?
ZAKARIA: We don't know but we are now going to watch something very interesting in Afghanistan to digress for a second, which is Afghanistan is going to have a surge without an awakening. And my guess is it's going to be very hard to make that work because what fundamentally drove the levels of violence down in Iraq was that Sunnis who had been fighting against us started fighting with us.
COOPER: But there has been a lot of talk, Peter, about basically trying to create an awakening in Afghanistan, whether that just means paying off some warlords and arming them, or whether it's a real awakening or not, arming local groups.
BERGEN: Yes, and certainly one of General Petraeus' first sort of victories when he got there was to persuade Hamid Karzai to put 10,000 local guys into militias. But that's not 100,000 as it was in the awakening in Iraq. And the Afghans have a very good reason to resist some of these ideas because they used to have a lot of warlords and militias and private armies and they got rid of those (INAUDIBLE). So they don't want to return to that. So there's, you know, some well-founded historic suspicion about this idea.
COOPER: So much of the speech was about the economic situation here at home, how the wars affected and what needs to be done now. Was this a speech that will somehow unify people, David?
GERGEN: Gloria Borger said the president was trying to unify people. I think -- I don't think it worked in that sense. I think he probably did appeal very successfully to the Democratic base. I think he helped himself with the base.
But for Republicans, I think much of the speech that would clang. And the Republicans and John McCain, for example, has been arguing all the time, we ought to leave based on success not on deadlines. And there was no talk here of leaving behind a stable self-reliant Iraq. The talk was all about getting out and turning it over.
COOPER: And that's McCain's big criticism of his policy in Afghanistan.
GERGEN: That's right. And of course, there was no mention of the surge as we said, giving credit to President Bush. On the economic front, when he turned to jobs, you have to do all these things to rebuild America and Fareed I think would agree. The biggest problem we face is the deficits and getting rid of the debt. And so coming out of that section about what we're going to have to do in the economy, he immediately pivoted into all the things we're going to spend doing for veterans. It was all about spending. There was nothing about how we have to show some self restraints. So I think Republicans will look at this and sort of think this is a great speech for your base but don't come around saying this helped -- this united us with you. You may disagree with that.
ZAKARIA: I think your point about the economy is well taken. I did think he was -- I had always thought Obama was remarkably unsentimental about Iraq. He thought it was a mistake.
ZAKARIA: He thought there was no reason to praise anything going on in Iraq and in this speech he did talk about the ideals of democracy, freedom, you know, changing Iraq. He talked about stuff that was more of the vision thing.
GERGEN: May be. I came out of this thinking he loves the troops, thank goodness, he loves the troops but hates this war in Iraq. He really hates it.
ZAKARIA: Well, in that sense politically, maybe he's sending the right message. That's where the country is and God knows that's where his party is.
GERGEN: Well, that's where his party is.
COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're going to have a lot more. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us from Pakistan. His experiences as a surgeon on the battlefield in Iraq and what the troops face when they come home. We'll have much more on the president's Oval Office address ahead. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interests, it's in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. 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. We persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people, a belief that out of the ashes of war a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibilities. Now it's time to turn the page.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The president went on to speak about Afghanistan and then the U.S. economy and our U.S. service members who have served overseas and are coming home.
Sanjay Gupta has spent a lot of time with U.S. military personnel in Iraq on the ground, actually operating on some military personnel in the initial push into Baghdad. He joins us tonight from Pakistan where he's there to cover the floods.
Sanjay, I think back to your reporting on the initial push toward Baghdad operating, you know, really on the front lines with the devil docs and others. In terms of what you saw on the battlefield, you know, the casualties would have been even higher had it not been for the amazing advances in getting the injured off the battlefield in that golden hour much quicker. Are we seeing different kinds of injuries and a lot more injuries than people normally would not have survived from?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson. This was a different sort of war from a medical standpoint because some of the reasons you just mentioned. A lot had been learned in wars past. One of the things was that it was simply taking too long to get the injured from the point of injury to some sort of medical care. So in this particular way in Iraq, what they did in 2003 was took doctors, nurses, corpsmen and moved them far forward so they could help take care of the injured as soon as they were injured.
Now as you mentioned, I saw that firsthand, you know, both as a journalist and as a doctor out there. But what you said is right. As a result, a lot of the injuries that would have otherwise been fatal in wars past, people did survive and it changed the whole sort of medical, sort of triage after that. The types of injuries, it became clear that the signature injury of this war was going to be head injuries, traumatic brain injuries. Those were the things that people were coming back with and sometimes took some time to diagnose, concussions that were more severe than people thought. And also PTSD, which President Obama talked about near the end of the speech. Numbers vary, Anderson, but some say up to 20 percent, up to a fifth of returning veterans have posttraumatic stress disorder, mild to moderate to severe, and it hasn't gone away as been surveyed in the years since then. So if they get it, it stays with them, it impacts their lives, their ability to get a job, they're likely to drink, their ability to interact with their families. So it's -- this may be an end in some ways but from a medical standpoint a lot of these medical problems will persist.
COOPER: And from a medical standpoint, how is the military dealing with something like PTSD? I mean, there's been kind of a big learning curve over the last couple of years. You now have military personnel who, you know, Chris Lawrence just a short time ago was talking about serving three or four tours. That kind -- you know, that takes an enormous toll not only on the family lives of people back home but on the frontline vets. Is the military up to the challenge over the next -- I mean, you say it's not just, you know, a six-month thing, it's many, many years. Are they ready for that?
GUPTA: I think they are much more serious about it than they were even a few years ago. I've been doing stories on this now for seven years, Anderson. I think in the beginning no one realized just the large numbers of people with PTSD that they would be treating. But now, for example, at Fort Hood, up to 4,000 mental health visits a month. That's simply more than they can probably handle but also this idea that can you screen for people ahead of time to make sure they don't return to combat.
I've talked to lots of doctors, mental health councilors and facilities all over the country and that's simply still not being done. There are people who are going back into combat who have PTSD and, you know, everyone agrees that that is not the right thing to do but it is so hard to screen ahead of time after someone returns and sometimes as a result you get these sorts of decisions. So, I think they take it much more seriously. I think that's increasing. The president talked about that but the numbers are so mind-boggling. You know, you have a million troops.
GUPTA: If you talk about the 20 percent number, you're talking 200,000 people potentially with all the things that we just discussed.
COOPER: Yes. Sanjay, appreciate it. Stay safe in Pakistan.
David, you want to --
GERGEN: I just wanted to add, Linda Bilmes, who's an economist at Harvard, has written something recently. She says that two million U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq over the last ten years. Four hundred fifty-thousand have already filed for some sort of compensation for disability -- 450,000.
COOPER: It's incredible.
GERGEN: And those -- the costs are going to continue going up.
ZAKARIA: It raises this issue of how much did this war cost? GERGEN: Exactly.
ZAKARIA: Nobel Prize winning economist says when you take those kinds of issues into account, the full cost of Iraq is actually $3 trillion.
ZAKARIA: The president called it $1 trillion but there is this question of what the add-on costs for the next 30 or 40 years.
GERGEN: For World War I veterans, the peak year paying for their costs for health, for World War I veterans, came 50 years after the war ended. Fifty years after the war ended.
ZAKARIA: And we live longer now.
COOPER: Amazing. Let's go back to Wolf in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. Speaking about how much this war costs, the president made the transition from the war in Iraq to the war in Afghanistan and then to the economy here at home. And this is how he made the transition. He said, "We have also understood that our nation's strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home."
Gloria, some might say was a little awkward that transition because, you know, a lengthy section of the speech on the economy where it was supposed to be about Iraq and Afghanistan.
BORGER: I know. I think we should first say that it's very difficult this close to an election that's going to be about the economy to give a speech on foreign policy. Some would even say lots of Democrats said that it wasn't even advisable to do it. But the president decided that he needed to mark this moment. So what he did was clearly compromise with those who said, look, you have to take a turn to the economy because of the election coming up. And it was awkward because he said, look, we spent over a trillion dollars on this war financed by borrowing. We've created deficits and now it's time to start working for ourselves a little bit more and to meet this challenge. I believe that if you're going to give an Oval Office address about a moment in history you ought to probably just mark the moment.
BLITZER: And he did have, John, a laundry list of things he wants to do to strengthen the U.S. economy and help the middle class.
KING: And he will add some of that to the list he has already outlined in the season in which the Republicans have flatly just said no. And so there may be a few modest things done when the Congress returns next week but much of this is a conversation, is a debate or decision the American people will make in nine weeks when they vote in the midterm elections and the debate that will carry over to the new Congress, whatever it looks like, likely to be more Republican next year. But there is not a consensus on these issues, the big issues, the deficit spending, where should the investments be and to the point the gentleman in New York were making a critical point that this campaign has seemed pretty small. It's about blocking the Obama agenda which is a big thing. But if you look at the negative advertising, the sniping back and forth, it has been small and there are huge issues facing the country about the deficit, about the entitlements and about the legacy challenge of taking care of these veterans that I don't think the Congress, as much as they've tried to have hearings about it, I think they've wrapped their minds around the 25, 30-year challenge of it and I don't think the American people have been engaged in a serious conversation about it.
BLITZER: Larry King is going to have a lot more analysis and reaction coming up.
Larry, tell our viewers what you're working on.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You're right, Wolf, we're going to have reaction to the address from Iraq from war veterans, from political observers and former POWS. And the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, is going to join us, too. It's all coming up on "LARRY KING LIVE" in about eight minutes, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Larry, we'll see you then. Good show. We'll have much more analysis coming up here. Our special coverage will continue right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This afternoon I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush's support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I've said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women and our hopes for Iraqis' future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Right now according to our most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, most Americans do not believe that U.S. goals in Iraq have been achieved. Only 29 percent say they have been achieved. Sixty-nine say the U.S. goals in Iraq have not been achieved.
When asked the more specific question about plans to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by now, by September, 65 percent favor what the president has done, remove all by 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. Nineteen percent want them all out of Iraq now. Nineteen percent want all the remaining 50,000 troops out. Sixteen percent say they oppose. They want to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely. Sixteen percent say keep the troops there indefinitely. A lot to digest. Anderson, you've got some excellent people there to help us better appreciate the history of tonight.
COOPER: That's right. I mean, it was really a historic announcement. It's not necessarily a speech anyone is going to really remember though.
ZAKARIA: No. He had to touch too many bases, Anderson. You know, and in that, the whole thing fell apart. Winston Churchill once pushed away a dessert by saying I do not want this pudding. It lacks a theme. The speech lacked a central theme.
BERGEN: I think, you know, the ghost hovering over the speech was the Iraq surge, which he -- he mentioned George Bush but he didn't mention the surge. I thought it really informed --
COOPER: He mentioned the surge just once in passing, though, saying like, as in Iraq we'll have a surge in Afghanistan.
BERGEN: Right. And that helped to thinking, and of course, as a junior senator from Illinois, he opposed the surge. Ironically, he's now got a surge in exactly the same general that Bush put in place, which, of course, is General Petraeus.
GERGEN: As troubling as I found the speech, there are two things I think we'll be grateful for tonight. One is as we leave Iraq, we're in much, much better shape than we were a couple of years ago and that should give us a little more comfort about Afghanistan and maybe the economy. The other thing is this is so different from Vietnam when he hated the veterans who were coming home. It is wonderful to see everyone as united in support of these veterans.
COOPER: Veterans felt that hatred assuming a lot of Americans didn't actually feel hatred toward them.
COOPER: But certainly they didn't get the sense of support that the veterans are getting now.
GERGEN: This is terrific.
ZAKARIA: They hated the war and that translated. This time even those who disagree with the war honored the people who still didn't.
COOPER: Yes. Wolf?
BLITZER: Anderson, thank you. I'm still struck, Gloria and John, by the uncertainty of the outcome in Iraq. This is by no means victory at hand. A lot can still go wrong.
BORGER: Yes, I was just thinking about that, Wolf because we can't talk about victory anymore and more. What we do is we're talking about transition and that's what the president was talking about, transition to noncombat forces. There's a lack of clarity there, an ambiguousness in Iraq. Still a milestone that the president needed to take note of. And he did.
J. KING: And yet, nine weeks from today, the American people will vote in a consequential midterm election. And what strikes me, the president talked of a page turning tonight. The 2004 presidential election was about Iraq. Anti-war sentiment was growing fiercely in the country. George W. Bush barely won re-election. The 2006 election, Nancy Pelosi is speaker. The Democrats controlled the Congress. This anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment all fueled by Iraq took over the politics of the country.
You could argue Barack Obama would not be president if Hillary Clinton had not voted to authorize the war in Iraq. It was big in 2008. In 2010, it has fallen as a political issue. The economy and the rut this country, the anxiety the American people feel has replaced Iraq. It is gone from our political discourse almost completely.
BLITZER: And as uncertain as the situation in Iraq remains, there is even greater uncertainty in Afghanistan right now. U.S. officials are deeply worried about the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
That's it for our special coverage this hour. But we're going to have a lot more. CNN's coverage of the president's historic speech continues right now.