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. Robert Miller

    An exercise conducted for the fun and profit of Bush & Friends at great expense to all and benefit to none..

    August 31, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sal

    It's still not too late to put g. bush up on the gallows for starting a war in Iraq that wasn't necessary or warranted! That g. bush administration was the worst in history.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      It took 20 years to get Saddam. I'll wait to see how long it takes to get Georgie Bush!

      September 1, 2010 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Fran

    No, it wasn't worth it at all. Did The President think that we would forget the reasons we were originally given for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan? We have lost the war, and now we're making up excuses to get out. After having lost thousands of warriors. Others are physically and mentally damaged. We have killed countless civilians. And we have ruined two countries. And all the rhetoric and lies in the world won't change any of that.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Louie

    As long as Iraq has oil and the puppet regime can keep sending out suitcases of oil money to pay off the insurgents, our politicians will have their window dressing for patriotism.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Julia

    I remember going to a gathering the night before the attack. A group of people who didn't know each other prayed that the attack would not happen. Now as I reflect back on all that took place, the lives lost, the money wasted, the goal unmet, the lack of "weapons of mass destruction," and all the lies from our government at the time, I have to say, No. It was NOT worth it."

    August 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Once again, the power of prayer. When will you religious fools learn?

      September 1, 2010 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Barry from Johnson Creek, Wisconsin

    Was it worth it? In a word, NO.

    The original objective (remember the trumped up reason for invading?) was to seek out "weapons of mass destruction." Did we find any, despite billions spent looking? NO.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. True Blue

    No this Iraq "thing" was NOT worth what it cost our country in money and ESPECIALLY in lives lost and lives that will be crippled forever......God Bless the troops who went to serve our country without question.......just as I and others did in Vietnam,,,we served our country without question !!! But if this war was a travesty,,,,then somebody PLEASE explain to me what in God's name are we doing in a country I can't even spell......we are not stopping terrorism from coming to thiis country,,,,the terrorists that we have to fear are already here,,,,check the news.....so then why are we losing lives in this hell ?????????

    August 31, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ralph

    Was the war worth it? Absolutely – just ask Halliburton or Blackwater.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sal

    The Iraq war was started and encouraged by the dumbest so called presiden in history! He should rot in hell for what he has done to that country, and wasted billions of dollars of our money! Still not too late to hang the guy for war crimes........

    August 31, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. aub2110

    how much has obama cost us since he has been in office?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Not anywhere near as much as Georgie cost us. Trillions of dollars spent by conservative republicans and all you idiots can whine about is Obama's spending. At least Obama and the democrats are speninding something on us! Bush just spent it on the rich, on wars, on Wall St. bailouts. About $5trillion dollars was Georgie's final tab.. More than ALL othe presidents combined! Not bad for a dry drunk.

      September 1, 2010 at 4:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. alphadoghandler

    No the war was not worth it, too many men and women died...friends and loved ones....ive served and was overseas and was apart of it in 2002....def not worth it...the country, iraq, has not developed as thought and it wasnt a hit and run mission...gone on way too long...still alot of problems there....but just cutting and leaving now is not an option....were stuck into this and will be for a long time....sad

    August 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Not only did they die on the battlefield. Those like my nephew after 3 tours in Iraq lost so much, lost a marriage, came back harmed in many ways. Thankfully President Obama has committed resources which is currently a positive force in his rehabilitation. The real number of injuries whether you can see it or not is huge and they will be paying for the rest of their live. Thank you to all of our American heroes for doing what was asked of you.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tuycan

    I love my country , but I don't like the war in Iraq at all . This is all the Bush 's wrongdoing !!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. thunder1road

    "My army went to Iraq and all I got was this lousy trillion dollar debt!"

    Heckuva job George Bush!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    The world will benefit mightily from Iraq being a democracy. Over time its example will transform Arab nations whose people currently live under corruption but yearn for modernity and freedom.

    The United Nations (and the U.S. in the 90's) allowed Saddam to thumb his nose at the cease fire agreement. This was a catastrophic failure and and a dangerous act of global cowardice. Clinton said his policy for Iraq was "regime change," but he never did anything to accomplish that goal. That policy goal has NOW been accomplished and the world is the better for it. Too bad so many people won't acknowledge this and therefore won't give credit to our troops for that accomplishment. Their sacrifices deserve better.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Mmmmmm! That kool-aid you're drinking must taste good!

      September 1, 2010 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. Randy

    Defense contractors were the only ones to benefit from this complete disaster just like Vietnam.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
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