This week, I traveled to Afghanistan—to thank our troops serving far from home, and to sign an historic agreement that will help us complete our mission and end the war.
As Commander-in-Chief, nothing is more humbling or inspiring than the chance to spend some time with our troops. At Bagram Air Base, I visited with some of our outstanding men and women in uniform. I thanked them for their extraordinary service. And I let them know that America honors their sacrifice.
Because of their bravery and dedication, the tide of war has turned in Afghanistan. We have broken the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan Security Forces. We have devastated al Qaeda’s leadership. And one year ago, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach.
Because of the progress we have made, I was able to sign an historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries – a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states; a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins.
The enormous sacrifices of our men and women in uniform are not over. But many of our troops are already coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. As our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014, the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country
And this is as it should be. Because after more than a decade of war, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
As a new greatest generation returns from overseas, we must ask ourselves, what kind of country will they come back to? Will it be a country where a shrinking number of Americans do really well while a growing number barely get by? Or will it be a country where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules – a country with opportunity worthy of the troops who protect us?
America has answered this question before. My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth. They contributed to a story of success that every American had the chance to share in, the basic American promise that if you work hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.
Keeping that promise alive is the defining issue of our time. But it means making responsible choices.
I don’t think we should prioritize things like more tax cuts for millionaires while cutting the kinds of investments that built a strong middle class.
That’s why I’ve called on Congress to take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the other half to rebuild America.
Because we’ve got more jobs to create. More students to educate. More clean energy to generate. More entrepreneurs with the next great idea, just looking for their shot at success. We’ve got to invest in things like education and medical research. We’ve got to build newer, faster transportation and communication networks. And we’ve got to secure the care and benefits our veterans have earned, so that we serve them as well as they have served us.
Every time I have the privilege of meeting with our troops, I’m struck by their courage, their commitment, their selflessness, and their teamwork. They have something to teach us. Recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is a work in progress – but if we follow their example, then I have no doubt we will preserve the promise of this country, protect the freedoms we cherish, and leave for our children an America that’s built to last.
God bless you, and have a great weekend.