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. Sarah

    I would be so bitter if one of my beloved friends or relatives died for no reason...

    August 31, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rinsac

    It should in no way demean the efforts and service of the brave men and women, American and Iraqi who fought and died in this liars war to say, "NO! It was NOT worth it!"

    August 31, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mickey

    Having lived in the mid east, I was against the Iraq war from the time I sensed President Bush was thinking about it. They don't think like we do over there. Then it was considered unpatriotic to be against it. I had trouble convincing people that even though i was against the war I support the troops. My Marine Lt. son just got back from Afghanistan -he doesn't think that war is worth it either.

    August 31, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Thermotom

    As a result of this war has at least one American child been left to live the rest of their life without a Father or Mother?

    Answer – Yes.

    It was not worth it.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jo

    I don't get why people think that those who don't think the war wasn't worth it means that they don't support the troops. They did not choose this war, our previous President and his government did, so why would anyone blame/feel angry towards the troops, who have no choice but to fight? I think that is a concept even a small child can get.

    Anyway, it was a complete waste of time and resources. I doubt we'll be truly done with Iraq in my lifetime.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paul H

    I agree with many that this is a war that should not have been fought. But I think that those who look back years from now, especially Iraqi people that lived in fear of Saddam Hussein and his regime will say yes it was well worth it. Think of the horrors that they found, the mass graves, the prisons, the torture stories, the over all bulling of this neighbors. Yes this was worth it.
    Don't tell families of US soldiers that have sacrificed so much anything different.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Totally disagree Paul i think you need to take that point up with the Iraqi people instead of those voices in your head!

      September 1, 2010 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. Donald in CA

    Go ask the families of those brave soldiers who were killed and wounded was it worth it. The war was built on a lie. None of the cheney and bush families didnt lose one family member in Iraq.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    It was worth to destroy a country without any reason except USA's greed. It was a secular country somewhat with moderate democracy,moderately developed social system and moderate secular country. Now that country became total chaos, anarchy and a muslim country. Didn't we achieve anything?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    It was worth to destroy a country

    August 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robin Bray

    The answer is no. The same as it was in Vietnam. Never take sides in a civil war. There are no winners, just widows, widowers and orphans.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brian

    Bush said he invaded Iraq for WMD. Where are the WMD ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    August 31, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robin Bray

      So very true. There were none. Saddam followed his pledge to the UN and had destroyed them all. We went to war to make baby Bush lool good to daddy Bush. No American should have died for that.

      August 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Agedsage

    No matter the lies, misleading statements and political insanity that led us to this war in Iraq; it would be even more of a shame if our young soldiers and those of the Coalition forces gave their lives in vain. My instincts tell me that Iraq will always be a hotbed of violence, and that famous "democracy" we ostensibly were trying to provide the people of Iraq is something they do not even understand. I hope I am wrong, but I am of the opinion that the Iraqi military and police will soon become the servants of the corrupt politicians, and chaos will prevail for a very long time.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      What will it take for people to realize that in this and most instances, the sad, hurtful truth is that they did give their lives in vain. That's why our leaders back then were and still are war criminals.

      September 1, 2010 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. elidude

    Was it worth 4,400 American lives, countless maimed for life and 100's of 1,000's of Iraqi lives? Sure, we got them weapons of mass destruction. What? There were no WMD's? Ooops. Our bad.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Confused

    Over 4,000 Americans killed, tens of thousands wounded, an unknown number of Iraqs killed (probably in the 6 digit range), billions and billions of dollars spent/lost, and outright lies to justify the entire fiasco. Not to mention the total incompetence of handling the occupation early on. Plus we are no safer today than on Sept. 12, 2001. Together with large tax cuts this all helped to create the economic problems we now face. So we will be paying for this for a long, long time. Was it worth it? Not even close. Even if Iraq succeeds as as a democratic nation this wasn't worth what it has cost our nation, our people, our psyche. Many pundits and especially Republicans tells us to quit pondering the past and move forward to solve the problem. No! We should never forget and keep talking about the blunders made in our recent past lest we repeat the same errors again. History is important.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sal

    To be fair, they should have hanged george bush alongside Saddam Hussein! Now that would have been justice!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
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