As the first American bombs fell on Baghdad nearly nine years ago, I was glued to my television. Like most progressives, I was more shocked than awed at the missile fire igniting the night sky, heralding the dawn of a war of choice that would be followed by a prematurely triumphant claim of "mission accomplished" and a difficult decade for both our troops and America's global standing.
However one felt about the Iraq war, we were all transfixed by how it began, and now should dedicate equal attention to how it will end.
President Obama wisely opposed the Iraq war from the start, proposed in the Senate a plan for how it could end, and promised as a presidential candidate to follow through on that plan. We worked hard to give him the chance to make good on his word, and as our commander-in-chief, he's delivered: the last of our brave troops are on their way home from Iraq right now.
As this brutal war was wounding our warriors and our reputation, President Obama saw that it was also monopolizing and misdirecting our attention. Every dollar, minute and young life spent in Iraq meant we had fewer resources to dedicate to the real places where al Qaeda had developed the blueprints for the 2001 terror attacks.
After all, the president reminded Washington and the nation, responding to the 9/11 attacks was the core reason we'd asked our sons, daughters and spouses to risk their lives in the first place. It's why we've asked so many families to sacrifice while their loved ones serve half a world away, fulfilling every mission they're given.
The president saw that our efforts distracted our focus in the Middle East, so he promised to responsibly leave Iraq and redirect our attention to our real priorities: disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He's kept his word. The president sent troops into Afghanistan to reverse the Taliban's momentum and train Afghans to secure and defend their own country. Enemy-initiated attacks fell dramatically, more than half of al Qaeda's leadership has been eliminated and Osama bin Laden was brought to justice. It wasn't an open-ended commitment, but a strategic decision; as soon as our servicemen and women did their jobs, the president began bringing them home from Afghanistan as well.
This focus and follow-through -- staying true to priorities and promises -- is consistent with the kind of leader President Obama has been at home, too.
President Obama saw middle-class workers and families being increasingly squeezed, income inequality widening, and our debt and deficits exploding -- thanks in large part to the unpaid -- for wars he inherited. For decades the household bills we paid have grown larger, but our paychecks haven't risen to match them. The costs of college, health insurance and many mortgages went through the roof. And while those at the top of the top tax bracket were let off the hook, exempted from doing their part, Wall Street's unchecked greed endangered our entire economy.
So just like he did for our national security, President Obama has again shifted our focus, this time to reclaim the economic security the middle class has lost. He took a series of steps -- like saving us from a second depression and saving the auto industry -- to address the immediate crisis he confronted upon taking office. But he has now also laid a new foundation of fairness, one that recognizes that hard work should again pay off in America and we should reward responsibility, not recklessness.
It's a foundation for an economy built to last, one that supports important investments like education and infrastructure and is grounded not in outsourcing, but in out-hustling the world. And he's kept our sacred trust with our veterans, helping them pay for college, find a job and get the medical care they need for wounds visible and invisible alike.
As the president said strongly last week in Kansas, the lesson of the last decade is that we cannot succeed until we refocus on building an economy where everyone -- from Main Street to Wall Street -- plays by the same rules, does their fair share and has a fair shot at success.
America is safer, stronger and more respected in the world because President Obama ended the war in Iraq. We will be even stronger when we achieve his vision of economic fairness here at home.
President Obama has kept his word and kept us focused, and that's why we need to keep him in the White House.