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. Mr. Davidson

    This is exactly why we need cloning ,all this dissenting in distracting to the corporations which extract out treasury from our hopeless hands. with cloning the computers will just be installed in the brain,since they are already we have nothing to worry about. the servant class of robots will be rebooted as necessary,military class will continue to invade foreign nations and murder for profit but the dissenters will be programmed not to intercede any longer ,almost like today.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jimbob

    definitely not worth it. Never forget that the reason the US went in and attacked this sovereign nation was because of the WMD. They weren't there, so the US ended up causing the deaths of thousands of people under false–and deliberately obfuscated–pretenses.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Madison

    Hell NO!!!!

    And those who still say otherwise are either in denial or incapable of understanding the facts in front of them.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Andrew

    4400 American lives lost... hundreds of thousands of innocents die and over $1 trillion in cost! AND Iraq is no better today then when Saddam and his regime was in control.!!!
    so HELL NO it was not worth it! I blame this war solely on Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield etc and I'm a damn Republican!

    August 31, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Steve6167

    Another sad and gone bad time in America. Since we never seem to learn from our mistakes, Vietnam and Iraq, I am sure we will find another way to fool ourselves within 30 years, but not less than 10 that we need to defend the country. I love how it is always we have to protect the country. But how do you go about and protect yourself from the person who can do you the most harm which is ourselves?

    August 31, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bush's Fault

    Was the war worth it? You have to be kidding me. This was a war of choice. It was Bush's war, not America's war.

    Bush and the republicans have no credibility. Just listen to Fox News and tell me if you seriously think the republicans, conservatives or tea party activists are trustworthy. I don't trust the democrats either but they're less toxic than the alternative.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Linda

    I remember watching GWB announce the invasion of Iraq on television in 2003. I couldn't believe he would actually go thru with it and certainly wish he hadn't. A terrible waste of lives, money and resources.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. downinfront

    What an embarrassment.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Geoffreyf

    I am genuinely sorry to have to say this given the personal sacrifice but no, I don't think it was worth it. In fact, it may yet prove a negative. Had there been no invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein would still rule. There would be a lid on him as there is with North Korea today. He would be keeping iran busy and at bay and the USA would have had the full weight of its military against Al Qaida in Afghanistan. We might have more of them now. The only thing I will say that was positive is that Iraq acted like a sponge that absorbed Jihadis from around the Middle East. They went to Iraq where we could engage with them and kill them. That actually is probably a very good thing.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. OrangeCat46

    Total waste of lives...and no, don't blame Obama, even if he'd voted against every single bill, he'd have accomplished little, and while I can regret that he wasn't the awesome kind of person who can magically stop a war in its track, I can't blame him for it.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. downinfront

    Imagine if Junior didn't steal the election. We'd still have a surplus instead of a deficit and Bin Laden would be dead.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Roger

    Canada has the potential to develop nuclear weapons – after all it has lots and lots of Uranium hidden underground.... Along with oil, wood, water and lots of farmland. And besides there are Muslims up there – thousands of them! – along with (ugh!) Liberals...and (shudder) Communists. Heck – they even have Cuban cigars and rum.

    So why not invade a country you can actually defeat for a change?

    August 31, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Abdulameer

    Our whole Iraq enterprise was misconceived from the beginning. Our goal of creating a stable, pluralistic democracy allied with us was impossible. It is still impossible, and it will always be impossible. The people who set these goals and who still adhere to them have no understanding of the role that the doctrines of Islam play in the lives of the people there. Moslems can never create a stable, pluralistic democracy allied with the non-Moslems (us!). It was and is only wishful thinking based on profound ignorance on our part. We have paid a steep price in lives and treasure for our leaders' ignorance about Islam. The same is true for Afghanistan.
    After overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we should have gotten out and let the chips fall where they may. We should have done the same in Afghanistan after we overthrew the Taliban. There is no way that we, non-Moslems, are going to remake their Moslem societies. It cannot happen no matter how kind and generous we are to them. Our only interest in those countries is to prevent them from invading other countries and prevent them from using their territory as a staging ground for international Islamic terrorism. We can always go back in, when necessary.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jwa

    No. Not one American life was worth Bush avenging the assasination attempt on his father. I wish Bush/Cheney would end their days in prison where they belong. Is our intelligence really so poor we thought we could impose democracy on a tribal society? What a waste.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. InkSmith

    so. where are those WMD anyway? or does anyone care?

    August 31, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
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