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. Steve851

    It wasn't worth it the way it was handled. Had we had someone competent handling the war, who knows? In any event, all this foreign adventurism has to stop. We can't afford it. Don't abandon Afghanistan, but cut the forces by 80 percent. No more nation building. Just protect our interests.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFairweather

      Watch Charlie Wilson's War. If we had followed the Congressman's advice after the Soviet defeat and spent several billion in Afghanistan on schools, doctors, roads, utilities, infrastructure, and the like, it would be a totally different place than it is today, the lives of all those soldiers would have not been lost and the US would have a lot more money in the bank than we do at present.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jimmy

    I just don't understand why we cannot find any better solution than death and destruction to solve a problem. We murder under false pretenses and unless its right there in your face nobody gives a crap about it. We justify slaughtering our own kind for wealth and power under the guise of security and freedom. There is no security to be had as long as people are being killed. All we do is create a mass need for vengeance. Every father, mother, son, daughter, sister and brother that is killed by our country only creates another martyr and another person hell bent on exacting revenge on us. And invading other countries only breeds racism and hate. After all, how can u kill your enemy unless u hate them.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      this is so true. Now if we could only convince those who wish to destroy America of this.

      September 1, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mark Kalafatas

    It was worth it to the oil industry, who profited by stable oil prices. It was worth it to the financial sector. It might have been worth it to the Americans who still have jobs and who have not lost their children to roadside bombs.

    To everyone else it was a tragedy.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Really? $147 per barrel oil, then $70 per barrel, then.... finanicial collapse..... nope that wasnt much help

      September 1, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. JFairweather

    Was it worth it? Saddam was crazy but he was smart enough to say no to Al Qaida and to supporting terrorism. He knew that it would guarantee an invasion. Saddam killed hundreds every year but there were no terrorists in Iraq, it was a stable government, and, being that it was a very serious enemy of Iran, it would have continued had a serious damping effect on Iran.
    Now Saddam is gone, the government is weak, and can be easily toppled by pro Iranian fanatics, the country is in a shambles, terrorists will continue to kill hundreds every year, and without the pushback of Iraq, Iran is more dangerous than ever. And, of course, we blew trillions of dollars and gave our economy one heck of a body blow. Was the invasion a good thing? When you weigh the pros and cons, the answer is no. Thank the Republicans and Mr. Murdoch's news network for this mess. Good thing for them that they can distract everyone by using Obama as a target for pubic rage.

    And of course, if it weren't for the Iraq invasion (a violation of international law) the US would have been able to send all those troops for the invasion of Afghanistan (supported by international law) and the Taliban would be history. Bush got two for the price of one.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LMD

    This war was never worth it in terms of reasoning. Our mission was to find Osama Bin LAden and the terrorist group responsible for 911,not carry out a personal vendetta for the President. Meanwhile,lives were lost,money wasted,and the country will never be better than they are right now. At the same time,the troops in Afghanistan have been waiting to carry out the job that should have been done,and have been neglected by the news,lost lives,and still are being held back. To my son in Afghanistan and the soldiers to both wars,Thank You.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. does it matter

    Where are we going with this discussion.. NO i don;t support war.. but we have been quite for 7 + years.... why are we talking now??? Just hope that this does not happen again and that we learn from these mistakes.. GOD bless US and those life and familys who lost there LOVED once..

    September 1, 2010 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. Iran is next

    Liberals best get ready for stage 2. Iran is working on nukes and there is no way the US and Isreal can allow that to complete. IRAQ now provides a base of operations for any future iran operations. Was the Iraq war worht it. NO. but we sure best stop Iran, and soon.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      Perhaps building a Nuc program will help to isolate them further, and lets face it rocket scientist, they have what 1 Strike weapon, we can roast the planet 2 times over. These weapons are only good if you use them, otherwise they are an expensive luxury that does no good. Let em have the nuc's they wont have any friends in the region or around the world.

      September 1, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • David, Tampa

      @ Iran is next Why is it that you think that all of the other nations on this rock are not concerned with Iran?
      They are all wrong..........true? That is what CONS think! Everyone is freeked up but CONservative me

      September 1, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Iran is next

      Well Carlos pull you head out of where the sun don't shine and realize they don't have to launch anything. Give the uranium to Al Qaida or Hamas and let then delivered the package. The US border is wide open and anything could be brought into this country. Wake up Carlos

      September 1, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nate

    Is this a real question? Worth it? This article is proof that our nation has a terrible illness. We are all insane for buying into this debate of the worth or value of death and sadness. You can't hug a flag. You can't grow old with a flag.

    We swallowed the story going in and now we're eating up the story on the way out.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    Was it worth it?

    Not even close.

    Fewer Iraqis, and no Americans would have died, and it would have saved us a trillion bucks, if we'd minded our own business and stayed home.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. louise

    I watched commentary on CNN tonight, and i want to Thank Paul Begala for speaking the truth and for you Ari, you have to be so ashamed that you still have to defend Bush, when i can see it in your face that you know it was all wrong. And finally for David Gergen who i had respect for his opinion. but was deeply dissappointed when he thought OBAMA should have comended Bush on the surge, why? Why on anything, it was totally a bunch of fabricated lies that has set our country back for years. Please Democrats with integrity, keep speaking out, most thoughtful educated people will listen. Counter the lies that BECK, Palin,Rush, Hannity spew.....

    September 1, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Stew in GA

    Would you sacrifice your son or daughter for Iraq knowing what you do now? Over 6,000 families did for a cause they believed worthy. Thousands of innocent sons and daughters died on "the other side". What was gained? Only increased pain, anger, and mistrust.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. David, Tampa

    And just exactly could have been.................... GRETCHEN?

    September 1, 2010 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Carlos

    The 20 year drama of Iraq has turned out to be quite an expensive little mess. For a plan hatched in the late 70's early 80 to prop up a dictator in an OPEC Member country, one who might be favorable to the united states. Lets all face the truth here Ronnie and George (then head of the cia and personal friend of the Bin Laden family) put him there because Iraq has the 2nd largest supply of oil next to the Saudi's. Well the power went to his head just like woody allen in Bananas, and yeap who would have guessed that he would invade Kuwait, another (OPEC member). Well in we go to kick him back across the border.

    The next time we were all sold a bill of goods that turned out to be 100% false, thanks to the media and its inability to do its job, Research!!! I am no State Dept employee, but anyone with any knowledge of military hardware and chemical weapons systems could tell you that the chemical weapons of mass destruction striking the US was a total pipe dream!!! Saddam was in fact no threat to the United States at all, perhaps Israel, but Saddam was not an Iranian and was not out looking for a fight with Israel, he knew that was a loser right from the start.

    The Drama that started about 20 yrs ago, and kind of ended tonight, how many of our lives were lost? and how many Iraqi lives were lost, how many billions of dollars has the world spent? its not just us here there are many other players with very deep pockets.
    At the end of the day this is just a business of world politics, backroom deals, agenda's and control of the most valuable resource on the planet. Lets face it folks, if Iraq was not located on top of a huge pool of oil no one would have cared. We did not invade Sudan or get involved in any number of conflicts in Afrika, millions of people were slaughtered there for very little.
    The kicker at the end who will control the largest share of that valuable resource????? CHINA and Cinopec...
    The story goes on and starts the next chapter..

    To all those who lost a loved one or who have suffered in this terrible conflict, you have my deepest admiration and respect, your families sacrificed for our country, to that... there in no deeper debt of honor.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dan

    I was there for 16 months with the US Army and I can tell you right now. No. It was not worth it. It was about as worth it as Vietnam. It wont be long before another dictator rises to power. Mark my words. The billions we spend over there were not worth the effort. Maybe if we would have taken over, named Iraq "New Texas" and actually benefited from the occupation...I mean actually BENEFITED from the occupation, then yeah, I'd say it was worth it but we arent the Romans are we.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. David, Tampa

    I lovit when we invade SOMEONE ELSE'S country and we call their defenders INSURGENTS

    September 1, 2010 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
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