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."

Post by:
Filed under: Barack Obama • Iraq • Military
soundoff (498 Responses)
  1. stan

    4400 dead soldiers? this is going to be an unpopular statement – but – who cares? this wasnt 'nam. boys werent being FORCED to take up arms. the us has an all volunteer army. they signed up to do a job and even in peacetime soldiers die. it's part of the job description. look at the number of soldiers in uniform and the number of casulties in iraq and you will see being a commercial fisherman is more dangerous than being in the us army. 1 trillion + dollars? so what! this was a war we waged freely by our own choice. it wasnt defensive in nature and there was no imminent threat.

    should the cost of this war not be measured in the unintended civilian casualties? the iraqi dead didnt ask to be liberated. they didnt welcome us with rose petals. and yet by even the most conservative estimate ten times more iraqi civilians died than us military. some estimate are tens of times higher than that!

    August 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Double D

    Just remember if republicans gain control of congress and senate in 2010 they will be waiting and planning to invade Iran and start World War lll , and send more of our children to their death for their cause.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stew in California

    Set aside your ideological leanings left and right and you will come to the conclusion that it was one of the biggest wastes of time, people and resources. Trillion dollar contribution to the deficit. A liar for a president. thousands of innocent Iraqi lifes not to mention our brave lads who were thrown to their deaths. What would we look like had Supreme Court leaned 5-4 the other way on the Florida recount. A better world and economy. To talk of success in Iraqi is insulting. Thank God it's done.

    Move on.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. saftgek

    It was not "worth it." The unprovoked assault on Iraq was a most heinous act by the Bush-Cheney Regime. Fabricated "evidence" from the White House was the "justification" Messrs. Bush, Cheney, et al presented to the public.

    The John Wayne wannbe had an Iraq agenda since before he began contaminating our White House with his presence. Iraq will become what it has always been – a Middle East country, a theocracy, ruled by extremist religious zealots who hold the citizens of Iraq in a time of 2,000 years ago.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. USAF Vet

    Was it worth it? NO!

    August 31, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    Vietnam 2 is over!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    Vietnam2 is over!

    August 31, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ecibu33

    America (and European nations) are by nature war-mongering.. I am not making this up – every so often, the people are prepared to go to war either to replenish the weapons, boost the economy or simply to be battle-prepared!! Of course, pone cant just go to war with these reasons, so the propaganda would be "to preserve democracy, or "war on terror", or "make the world a peaceful place" (even if we are to go to war), or "get rid of WMDs". And the one which always gets the nation agreeable to war is "to preserve our way of life" (even if others way of life gets destroyed).

    I can guarantee it, every 25-30 years, America will go to one war or the other.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Timetraveler

    I'll just quote an excerpt from a history 101 textbook from 2070:

    "The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq at the turn of the millennium began the slow, steady and irreversible collapse of the once-mighty American empire. The massive economic burden imposed by these wars proved too great to stop a downward spiral in America's drain on treasure and resources. By 2027 America had lost all the key advantages that it had enjoyed throughout the 20th century, including its status as an economic, academic, technological, industrial and military superpower, relinquishing nearly all of these coveted jewels to China."

    Now you tell me if the Iraq war was worth it.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark Kalafatas

      So sad, but so accurate.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      @timetraveler: I'm sure that it is just the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have caused so much economic grief in America. It can't have anything to do with years and years (yes – even during Democratic years) of financial decay and setting the stage via the world economy (Euro, China, many others). It can't have anything to do with the individual American's financial irresponsibility (selfish, undisciplined). Let's just go ahead and blame everything on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wait...yeah...he's an easy target too...blame Bush...let's blame him for everything instead of looking at all of the facts.

      September 1, 2010 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. Usman Khan

    Bunch of terrorists returning home... I wonder how many people they will terrorize now in their home cities..

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

    War is always not been a good thing. There is no gain here except Kuwait and Iraqi freedom against oppression from a dictator.We did'nt find any WMD. We lost a lot of soldiers life aside from a neearly trillion dollars revenue from the war. A simple diplomacy can be better if we took that turn.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bob

    The terrorists have won the war...look at the mess the U.S. is in...Bush was used and acted like a brat with his daddy almost killed...and did not care about any of us...

    August 31, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JC

    Could we look at this from a strategic point of view for a minute. When America is attacked by an enemy that it cannot find, we had to draw them out. An ancient tenant of war is...If you must draw the enemy out, take something they love. We took to holy lands of Iraq. We drew the enemy out from all parts of the middle east and distroyed them. We did not end the war quickly, because we did not want to. We killed thousands of terrorists with our military over there, instead of thousands of terroists killing tens of thousands of American civilians over here. God bless our boys.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Carl J.

    Millions of dollars and thousands of lives for nothing. Iraq was a safer place to live when Saddam was in power.

    We deposed an impotent leader that was a threat to no country but his own.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ross

    Stupid, folks. There were 35 – THIRTY FIVE – Al Qaeda training camps in norther Iraq. Not worth it? How much was stopped by the invasion, no matter where intel about the WMD was correct or not?

    August 31, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFairweather

      There were ZERO terrorist training camps in Iraq at the time of the invasion. This is a fact that was verified by the US government when Bush was still in office. Al Qaida in Iraq happened AFTER the invasion, when Saddam was no longer around to keep those maniacs out of his hair. Get up with the facts.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      So a few guys were training with AK47s and donkeys at 15,000 in the mountains. For godsake, they werent a threat. i know 911....nuking half of the middle east has no bearing on a few idiots ability to strap a bomb on themselves....we half to stop living in fear. i didnt see anyother super powers fighting this war (excpet for our clones from england and canada, because we told them too)

      September 1, 2010 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19