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. daryl

    no it wasn't worth it. could've used the money for america. they were not doing anything to us at the time. they didn't have anything to do with 9/11. they had not dealings with al-qaeda. no training no making bombs. no wmd's. shouldn'tve went their in the first place. GOD Bless America.

    September 1, 2010 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    One day I woke up and joined the military to promote world peace. 2 decades later I woke up and Bush was president.
    Soon after returning from Iraq, I woke up and smelled the roses...we weren't promoting world peace anymore, we were imposing our will on an unruly world. Was it working because we are smarter than the old Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Prussians, Vikings, Germans, etc? No, it never works, and it isn't worth the risk of prematurely joining that long list of 'former' great world powers. We owe it to America to give Obama a chance to stop the bleeding and put us back on the course to being the beloved (by most) preeminent world power. P.S. I vote no to the question posed.

    September 1, 2010 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul Hauser


      September 1, 2010 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
  3. Terry W. Brookman

    Prey what was the gain? We have spent billions on a war with no clear objective and against on threat to us. Iraq did not export terrorism and were already beaten in the gulf war. We have presented the face of a bully killing woman and children to the rest of the world. We have been bled out in men and money so that a very real enemy such as Iran could take advantage to the point that a nuclear option might be the only option. This entire thing is a military and financial disaster, This was a purely a distraction from the financial crisis that was coming and being perpetrated by the politicians and their greed. Here we are ten years later playing the blame game while getting deeper into the same kind of mess. We need to wake up and get rid of the greed and corruption in Washington, that is the real enemy.

    September 1, 2010 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. coffeebean02

    Is it just me, but usually in a war there is a clear winner and a clear loser...You know, the winner comes home to a ticker tape parade and the loser surrenders...? This reminds me of Viet Nam, where 35 years later it is touted as a tourist destination. Is that what we have paid such a high cost for...?

    September 1, 2010 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    Get educated kiddies, read "The Bomb in My Garden" and remember the little Iran/Iraq tiff which featured PERSISTENT nerve agents courtesy of Saddam. After 12 years of inspections the best answer we could get from hans Blichst was "well, we don't know, and it would be nice if they would cooperate". Was it worth it? No war is ever "worth it" thats an outrageously ridiculous notion that I can't believe is even being discussed. War is ALWAYS a bad idea. Sometimes it's just necessary. If we don't believe it's a good idea for Iran to have Nukes now then it was a bad idea to walk away from Saddam then. Not to mention the terrorists were coming to US. They weren't content to Kill our servicemen and embassy personnel overseas anymore, they are coming to your town, your business, your house, to kill you, your wife, and your children. At least with our servicemen in Iraq they're attacking people with a chance to fight back.

    September 1, 2010 at 4:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. BR

    I have never seen so many useless comments in one place. There are so many people on here who are simply speculating and trying to present their arguments as facts. I've been to Iraq multiple times. I was there for the initial entry in 2003 and followed up with multiple tours. This wasn't a place where U.S. Troops ran off to try and kill as many women and children as they could. This wasn't a place where we just went off into "Willy Nilly" land to try and cover up something and pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. There was a real enemy. There were people over there who unfortunately needed addressing in terms of protecting the interests of America. If you think because you've read something in the news or Wikileaks and have it all figured out then you are sadly mistaken. In my humble opinion having witnessed it first hand...There are people who are more secure because of the war and there are people who will have more freedoms due to the war. Oh...and by the way...I actually hate war...and still am serving....and will continue to serve as long as I can so we can have the freedoms neccessary to voice our opinions in these kinds of venues!

    September 1, 2010 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. Paul Hauser

    I would like to know the # of people on this blog who have said "No, it wasn't worth it" and yet voted for that idiot Bush.

    September 1, 2010 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. ThirstyJon

    It was not a pre-emptive war. It was a follow up from the first Persian Gulf War. It was an enforcement of the treaties that ended the first war and of international law.


    September 1, 2010 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. Paul Hauser

    There are two reasons we went into Iraq – Oil and Money....Guess who was directing the operation from the desk in the Oval Office. Our true concern in the middle east is that we have access to OIL, without which our economy would collapse. The United States will go to any length to protect it's vital interests in the region – which means we will take on ANY RISK to make sure we have access to OIL. That's why they call it Black Gold. Now we can couch our efforts any way we choose, but the notion that we give a crap about the plight of ordinary Iraqi or Afghani citizens is crap. The ONLY people we care about, the same as any other nation on earth, is OURSELVES.

    September 1, 2010 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. USAF

    How many liberal baffons blame the US for not acting against the Rowanda Genocide, or the Armenian Genocide???? Yet when we do act against Iraqi Genocide all we hear about is how Iraq was no direct threat to the US and it was a waste.....try telling that to the thousands of Iraqi's who will now live without fear of Saddam killing them or their family that it wasn't worth it.

    Furthermore...we spent millions each year just keeping the man in check with inspectors and Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. We ended up saving money in the long run by simply removing a guy who was going to be a thorn for decades. And the cost, Ironically, less to stabilize that nation that Obama has spent on our nation and has nothing to show for it.

    September 1, 2010 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Louie

      Pinochet killed hundreds of thousands of his people in Chile' while Reagan and Thatcher propped up his regime. What about The Vanishing? Iraq, like Chile, was based on yellow cake uranium and when that farce fizzled it became a war about human lives. Please! If Iraq didn't have oil resources, Saddam would still be ruling it. Chile was about a sphere of influence but as for the crisis that was Rowanda there wasn't even an ideological need to intervene. This country has its own agendas (since 1950) just like any other so knock of the Apple Pie nationalistic zeal.

      September 1, 2010 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      The difference is OIL!

      September 1, 2010 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. Matt

    We won't know if it was until about 10 to 20 years from now.

    September 1, 2010 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Louie thank you, Mr Bush or thank you Mr Surge. Did the far right really think they were going to get a pat on the back? Strange how they dislike the President and yet want him to give them some kind of validation. This proves that thieves and liars need proof from individuals outside their circle.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kevin

    So all the people who said it was worth it to free people from a bad guy, what is next? Are we going to globe trot to each nation we don't like and kick some rear end or only if the country has oil?

    September 1, 2010 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bud

    Only the men getting off that plane can honestly answer that question. No one else has the right to even try.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. Al Romeo

    There are two types of people in America: Republicans who want to take down Obama by taking down America, and those who want to build America up.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
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