August 31st, 2010
01:09 PM ET

As Iraq combat mission ends, nation asks: Was it worth it?

Paratroopers return from their year-long tour in Iraq.

When President Obama sits down in the Oval Office on Tuesday night to address the nation about today's official drawdown in Iraq, he'll be speaking about the end of the U.S. combat phase and marking a new chapter in a war that has been controversial for seven years.

The combat mission in Iraq has been marked by many key events: It began with a declaration of weapons of mass destruction and was followed by a lengthy justification from the Bush administration, the capturing and execution of Saddam Hussein and a wave of sectarian violence.

The war so far has killed more than 4,400 U.S. troops among the thousands of casualties.

When Obama delivers his address, he won't say "mission accomplished," a top aide says. Instead, Obama will have a "change of mission" moment. Watch Obama live 8 ET: Web | TV | iPhone

As Obama prepares for his delivery, and the GOP prepares its own assessment, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held a national address of his own Tuesday, during which he proclaimed Iraq as "sovereign and independent."

As the milestone nears - officially at 5 p.m. - politicians, columnists, editorial boards, soldiers and everyday citizens are seemingly taking the opportunity to ask one question that perhaps has no apparent answer: Was it all worth it?

Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, lays out "what was lost and what it cost" for the U.S. to go to war with Iraq.

"There is no question that the United States liberated Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's demonic tyranny, but that argument was not what persuaded Americans that a preemptive war against the Iraqi dictator was in their best interests ...

"In short, the jury is still out on whether the Iraq War was the United States' most spectacular foreign policy blunder of the past several decades, or if, out of the wreckage, something resembling a coherent Iraq will eventually arise."

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson wrote that these days, wars rarely are won - but instead end in a "fog of ambiguity."

"Now that the Iraq war is over - for U.S. combat troops, at least - only one thing is clear about the outcome: We didn't win. We didn't lose, either, in the sense of being defeated. But wars no longer end with surrender ceremonies and ticker-tape parades. They end in a fog of ambiguity, and it's easier to discern what's been sacrificed than what's been gained. So it is after seven years of fighting in Iraq, and so it will be after at least 10 years - probably more, before we're done - in Afghanistan."

Ryan C. Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, concurred, writing in The Washington Post that he, too, believes this "milestone" doesn't mean things are over yet, let alone that we can properly assess what happened.

"The exit of combat troops does not end the post-1990, non-polar disorder that Hussein's invasion launched. He illustrated an international paradigm shift; he did not create it. Nor does it mean that Iraq is now "over." All of the momentous events of the past 7 1/2 years notwithstanding, Iraq is still at the beginning of its new story, with a future that will be defined by events that have not yet taken place. We have a vital strategic interest in the shape of that future: a stable, pluralistic Iraq in close association with the United States and the West can fundamentally reshape the map of the Middle East. An Iraq that descends into chaos or a new autocracy will threaten the security of the region and the United States."

James Phillips and Lisa Curtis of the conservative Heritage Foundation said the war is "not yet won" and the country remains plagued by "a low-grade insurgency, chronic terrorism, and simmering sectarian tensions."

"President Obama’s televised speech on Iraq will mark the “official” end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq and the transition to an “advise and assist” mission. The President undoubtedly hopes to assure voters ahead of the November elections that he is winding down the war. The irony is that current progress in Iraq was enabled by the Bush Administration’s surge policy, which President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and many members of this Administration opposed.

But the President should now make every effort to avoid squandering the hard-won security gains of the surge by withdrawing too many troops too fast. Iraq still needs substantial U.S. military, diplomatic, and political support to defeat various insurgent groups, stave off a possible return to civil war, and contain Iran’s expanding influence."

The New York Times columnist David Brooks argued there will be many successes (economic and social) that Obama will be able to tout in his address - but he'll have to do it carefully - "balancing pride with caution."

"In short, there has been substantial progress on the things development efforts can touch most directly: economic growth, basic security, and political and legal institutions. After the disaster of the first few years, nation building, much derided, has been a success. When President Obama speaks to the country on Iraq, he’ll be able to point to a large national project that has contributed to measurable, positive results.

Of course, to be honest, he’ll also have to say how fragile and incomplete this success is. Iraqi material conditions are better, but the Iraqi mind has not caught up with the Iraqi opportunity."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana), head of the House Republican Conference, wrote in a guest column for The Washington Times that Obama should give credit where it's due: to those who despite negative press stood for the surge and what the war meant. He further said Obama and certain Democratic officials should not hog the glory because they refused to support either endeavor.

"The Obama administration is attempting to rewrite history by taking singular credit for our accomplishments in Iraq. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently claimed it was President Obama who laid out the plan for a responsible end of the war in Iraq. But that's not the whole story.

As we mark this milestone, let us remember the real history of Operation Iraqi Freedom and give credit where credit is due – to the American service members, their families and a commander in chief who would not accept defeat in the face of withering criticism at home and abroad."

For those on the battlefield, the question is also real. Were their sacrifices worth it? Does this milestone mean people will lose sight of what needs to be done in Iraq? Those are some of the questions The Baltimore Sun posed to soldiers, including Army Spc. Craig Yingling, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and shared his thoughts.

"When we perform missions, we still wear full combat gear and go out armed? We still take incoming fire and the threat is still VERY REAL. Soldiers are still risking their lives on a daily basis.

I had an opportunity to talk to a few people this [past] weekend who were very [grateful] for my service and extremely happy that it’s over. It’s not over — we are still there and will remain there at least till the end of next year. That is the deadline for all troops: December 2011."

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Iraq • Military
soundoff (498 Responses)
  1. David

    At some point, I think we have to ask just how strong our economy would be today, and how much better off as a Nation we would be, If we had continued to pursue containment over war.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. lauradet

    Was the Iraq war worth it? NO! Once again America has gone into a country and caused major devastation, then is leaving the country as a war torn hell hole. All for the sake of finding WMD, or was it to free the citizens, or was it to bring democracy, or to avoid a giant "mushroom cloud." The whole war was a sham. Bush needs his butt kicked for spending trillions for nothing.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  3. Al Romeo

    FOX and Beck distribute propaganda, Olbermann, Stewart etc. EXPOSE the propaganda. The media is so conservatively biased right now, it's hard for people to identify the actual news from the spin. Olbermann, Maddow, Ed Shultz etc. are some of the few sources remaining for actual truth. Republiklans don't like them because truth conflicts with the Right wing narrative.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |

      Oh boy,,,, I can't believe you listen to those weirdo's, there so far out of touch it's not even funny. Keep drinking the kool-aid,,, see you at the polls in Nov or maybe you should sta home and watch ko and maddox,,, he he,,, you silly boy.

      September 1, 2010 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ray

    What were we doing there in the first place? During Desert Storm we who were there said if we ever went into Bagdad we would never get out. That my friends was 1990. I understand after 9/11 we had to do something and we did going into Afganistan but how the ### we wound up in Iraq? By 2003 I had retired from the Air Force but I still had friends and sons and daughters of friends who went to Iraq and to a one they couldn't figure out why we went in. Then after we went in the Bush Admin. got it all wrong. So to the Republican's who said Bush should have gotten credit for helping end the war, why did we go in to Iraq iin the first place? Just like 1969 when the Republican's wanted to go into Hanoi. We would still be there today. Need proof? We are still in Kosovo going on 10 years. Can't change 200 years of history.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |

    Every country that can, when in financial peril will go to war. War creates jobs........... Know your history before posting.
    Middle East has been and will always house terrorist, that's all they know. Their a bunch of barbarians. At least we killed a few hundred thousand of them. Maybe in the future these middle east terrorist should fly a plane into this terror sharia mosque their trying to build NYC

    September 1, 2010 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. watash60

    If we have strong presidents like Bush it may make these muslim countries think twice. If we have someone like obama then we are in continuous trouble.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. fastball

    755 BILLION dollars and 4400 soldiers??? For what? A year after the Americans are out of the area, nothing will have changed. Despots, tyrants, thugs and religious intolerants will rule the area.
    With that money, you could have rebuilt every bridge in America, run high-speed trains between cities, and put books in schools.
    Thanks, GeorgeW.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. TCM

    you bleeding heart libs are exactly what radical islam counts on....war comes at a cost. They play for keeps and we're in their crosshairs. It's in their doctrine to overtake our country, as well as any non-islamic nation; i.e., look at England, or countries throughout Europe. The only thing we did wrong was not hit them one likes war, but I believe we'd like Sharia law and car bombings on our soil less....good job to the troops and disregard the libtards

    September 1, 2010 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      So typical. When all else fails a GOP blames a liberal. When you have a real argument that doesn't involve lame predisposed political values, come on back, we'll be waiting. And I'm not a liberal, I just can't stand a locked in a box mentality. You say nothing that matters; your point is that liberals are retards. Good argument. I'm impressed. Just remember, although I know the GOP can only remember back a month or two, it was YOU and your regime that started the war. Just so you know.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    It was all about Bush Jnr. showing he was a man to Bush senior. No it wasn't friggin worth a single American life. Nothing to do with 9/11 what so ever. No WMD. The dictators come and go in 3rd world countries, nothing we can do about it. History shows we usually make things worse down the line when the west meddles.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff

    Its funny how all the liberals forget about the growing anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. The growing number of terrorist attacks happening around the world. The USS Cole, Lebanon, al. The only thing those people respect is power. Its a shame that the lives of some of our finest Americans were sacrificed, and as the article states, the final results are yet to be known. But, it was time for the international community to get involved. Unfortunately, most of the international community thinks we can just stay at home and use "Harsh Language". I just hope we don't squander what has been started in Iraq and the Middle East. I hope we don't squander that for which so many American lives were sacrificed.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jill

    Was it worth it? Only time will tell – a long long time. I recently was cleaning out a closet and came upon a 1978 National Geographic lengthy article asking the same question about Vietnam. Was it worth it? Years and years of war drilled to us every night in the news and 57000 dead Americans. My generation, too, was told it is over and to turn the page. Only God knows if it was worth it. I am 60 and still miss one of my best friends and when I close my eyes and see him in my minds eye, he is still a 20 year old young Marine.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sgt. Daniel Torres, killed in Iraq 2/4/05, 2nd tour-stop loss order

    NO! The IRAQ WAR was not worth it! My family paid the ultimate price when Sgt. DANIEL TORRES, was killed in Iraq 2/4/05, 2nd tour/ stop loss order. Daniel asked me to "Stop the War" and after his first tour, "said that we should not be in Iraq! There are no weapons of mass destruction (WMD)"

    My family has been destroyed by this horrible Iraq War. Daniel never had a chance to meet his daughter. He died just 48-hours after knowing he was going to be a Daddy. Today his daughter is almost 5 years old and only knows him through pictures and goes to visit him at the cemetery and does not yet understand why her Daddy died in Iraq.

    Just recently she asked me "who were the bad people that killed my Daddy?" and "what is WAR?" –and all I could do was hold my tears and at the end I had to tell her, that WAR is a bad thing! But unfortunately the elected President of the United States in the year 2003 and his architects of the war, are the ones responsible for her Daddy dying and also for the thousand of innocent civilians in Iraq. Last week was Daniel's daughter first day of school and Daddy could not take her to school, as the Iraq War took his life for nothing. A war that has only made many 3rd parties richer, with the trillions of dollars the U.S. has paid out of our tax dollars.

    A war in which the wrong politicians voted for and waged, a war that should have never happened if only the elected politicians would of try more diplomatic approaches to resolving conflicts, and not go into a war based on lies. A war where at the end no one in the Bush Administration and his architects of the war, have been held accountable for war crimes!

    September 1, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. Smith in Oregon

    The removal of Saddam under the fiction and lie of him having Weapons of Mass Destruction was more of a depraved vendetta by Bush jr. to avenge an assassination attempt upon his father by Iranian security officers.

    Destablizing Iraq completely empowers Iran in that entire region, not only is Iran stronger and in Iraq's government, Bush jr. handed them Iran's greatest enemy on a silver platter, Saddam himself.

    Some One Million Iraqi's died in the resulting civil war, Bush jr's Republican touted surge didn't stop the killing, they ran out of bodies to kill and the firebrand Iranian militant cleric cut a deal with the US Commanders who issued a exit date in Iraq by withdrawing his troops and returning briefly to Iran.

    Well over 4,000 American lives lost, nearly 40,000 severely wounded American soldiers, and Bush jr. GAVE China huge Iraqi Oil Field Leases worth Multi-Trillions of dollars for PENNIES not only did China make extra Hundreds of Billions of dollars from interest on nearly 900 Billion dollars China loaned Bush-Cheney for the Iraqi War, they also made several Trillion more dollars from the Iraqi Oil fields!!! That same money is now empowering China to build up it's military in a major unprecedented fashion.

    SEVEN years of 24/7 Iraqi's being slaughtered by American's, NATO, Sunni and Shiite forces has directly placed American tourists in greater risk of being kidnapped or murdered not only anywhere in the Middle East but in many tourist destinations in the entire world. American's are far less safe because of the utterly corrupt and depraved Repubican administration of Bush-Cheney.

    Was it worth it for Iran, ABSOLUTELY
    Was it worth it for China, ABSOLUTELY
    Was it worth it for the Iraq People, unlikely, another dictator will likely take over that country in the future.
    Was it worth it for the American People, NO, Absolutely not.

    September 2, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tandra

    I am so proud of what all of these Women and Men who have sacrificed everything. I am a Military Wife and I am so proud of what my Husband does and has done for Our Country. I want to Thank all the Women and Men out their. I am so glad this "War" is almost over with.

    September 2, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
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