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. thunder1road

    Great Republican Accomplishments: The Bridge to Nowhere. The War to Nowhere. The Depression to Nowhere. The Jobs to China. And now they want to blame Obama for the whole mess when all he's trying to do is clean it up. Heckuva Job Bushie!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JC

    Well, here we are, sitting at our computers, arguing over George Bush Jr.. That's smart. There's still 50k troops in country over there, and just like in Afghanistan, MOS doesn't mean a damned thing. They are still in harm's way, and we need to remember that. One thing strikes me as odd: if there are truly no combat troops, who is training the Iraqi Army to defend their country? Or is it just a question of semantics?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ultima Ratio

    Given the fact no one really knew what this so-called war was all about, other than it's a drawn out process of oil people in bed with generals and politicians, what will we end up gaining by such a huge loss? There is no moral victory here. This is a lot of waste of good troops, and the costs of this fiasco we'll all dearly pay for in years to come. In the final analysis, these demon-zealots and their so-called faith will triumph. You can't kill bugs with bombs, any more than you negotiate with people who traded their minds for evil in the name of religion, so-called religion. We were duped starting with W and this liar now in charge simply followed suit, but you have to admit his oration is much better than that other forgotten speech buster.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. SkyREAD

    Was it worth it?

    Only if George W. Bush, Dick face Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Lewis Paul Bremer are all tried for Treason against this great Nation for deceiving the public and using our own blood, the military, for their own personal entertainment. Did I miss anyone?

    Great Eternal Shame on you George Bush for generations to come. Your place in history has been set at the table of leaders who abused their power in a perverse manner. It will take more than a generation to heal the scars you have left on our Nation.

    For what?

    Only you can answer that question.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. saddam's chocolate factory

    Tasty oil goodness in exchange for barrels of blood? DEAL!!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. thunder1road

    These liberals keep saying that Bush destroyed a country! He didn't destroy a country! He destroyed 3 countries! Iraq ..... Afghanistan .... and the USA. Bush did more damage to our country than Osama Bin Laden ever dreamed of.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    No way.. If a politician says it was, don't believe em!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Complete Waste

    For average people it was a complete waste. For those that made a profit on this war then it was just what capitalism is about.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jon

    The US should have NEVER gone into Iraq. We were supposed to have been highballing it on the asses of Al Queda and the Taliban and thus far both of those groups are still doing the nasty with us, with no end in sight. I wonder though: How long will it be before Iraqis start filing lawsuits against the US for this mess?

    August 31, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kent Hunziker

    NO! For inexplicable reasons we sent our troops to die in vain. Any invasion by a uniformed army is no match against a ghost army. All we did was make living conditions worse than under Saddam's regime. What a waste of lives – for what?

    There will be a new battle coming: for control of the nation. 1 minute ago

    August 31, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tery Pommett

    Yet another example of how the people and political leaders of this country are hell bent in squandering our limited resources and treasures. If truth be told, we paint democracy in dirty shades of demagoguery.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Gregory

    Well at least we did find the WMDs. That didn't seem to make headlines, but we found and stopped them.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Johnson

      Are you moron.. or do you just pretend to be?

      August 31, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      I hope you are being sarcastic......

      If not, are you the last person in the world ytou actually believes that baloney?

      September 1, 2010 at 4:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mike Johnson

    It was very well worth for all those individuals who made a lot of money on this "war" ... it was not worth it for America and it certainly was not worth it for Iraq.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Terry from West Texas

    Back in 2002, almost all Americans supported the invasion of Iraq. I did too, because I was completely swept away by the WMD argument. When Colin Powell said that "there was no doubt" that Iraq had over 20,000 tons of bioactive and radioactive weapons grade material, I thought "There is no way that a nation with the small resources of Iraq is going to produce that much dirty weapons material without having committed itself to the use of them on a date that has already been determined." I thought we might nip the plot in the bud. I thought Saddam Hussein planned to use it on Israel. I thought he saw himself as the man on the white horse that would liberate the Muslim world from western domination. I bought my bumper stickers and we put out our flag.

    Then, when nothing was found, I realized that we had gone in, wrecked a country, removed its government, killed a lot of its civilians, and disrupted every Iraqi's life. Now the goal of the war, to me, was to put Iraq back together again better than it was before. It is also out duty to see to it that those Iraqis who worked with us, our allies there, do not suffer because they trusted us.

    We did this to ourselves. Many Americans questioned the patriotism of those who opposed the war and many of those same Americans are writing here now that we should have never fought it. You can't have it both ways.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tony Tecza

    When, the POTUS sends a group of willing and able Military to defend the US. It should of been for a better reason than this.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
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