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. Marcy

    I say, unequivocally it was not worth it.
    As Iraq spirals toward civil war all we can say is that we spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of good men and women, lost face and respect in the world, never found a WMD – and all for naught. Please remember these things and more when you head to the polls in November.

    August 31, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg Gilbert

      Agreed. Vote Libertarian cause both the dems and repubs voted for the war. Gee big government makes big mistakes?!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      Iraq civil war.....not sure what you've been reading or smoking......We're leaving because they are in better shape now then when we got there.....

      August 31, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin thought

      Is anybody counting the number of Innocent Iraqi's dead/wounded. women/children ????

      August 31, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Yeah, let's vote all Republicans out of office!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MikeMaz

    4000 lives. no wmds, trillions of $ that could have been spent elsewhere. Umm I dont think so

    August 31, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David

    No, it wasn't worth it. It's STILL (and will continue to be) and unstable population of angry Islamic radicals. You know, those folks we don't want building in New York near ground zero because we just know ALL Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers? We just spent a TRILLION dollars and 4,000 dead American soldiers to FREE Iraq to be a Muslim nation. You do realize they're Muslims right? Not Southern Baptists just waiting to be freed? Why did the GOP, which hates Muslims (at least in New York and Tennessee) want to spend $1 trillion and 4,000 American lives to help a Muslim nation (which "free" to elect a religious council and have Sharia law now). Thanks GOP!

    August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Booser

      Wow what short memories we all have... "GOP"... come on you remember the days leading up to the war Bush had 86% approval rating with little opposition to an Iraq invasion. Now suddenly all the democrats that were for it are now against it. "flip-floppers" you agree to what suits you best. I'm starting to see it in Afghanistan now. All the early supporters are falling by the way side. We are Americans and should unify to win this one and move on. Semper Fi

      August 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. t

    Was WWI, II, etc.. worth it. Those of us generations removed have some perspective as will those 3-4 generations from now looking back. Those of us in the moment rarely have the patience, or objectivity to truly know as we look more emotionally. Those who lost loved ones in the fight need to be given space to vent, those of us who did not need to give them space. In the end God gave us these leaders for this time, and his will shall always be done whether we like it or not.

    August 31, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • p

      Iraq was nothing like WW2.
      There were plenty of good reasons for us to be in WW2.
      Not even one for Iraq. It was phony BS. Bold -faced lies sent us to Iraq.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Buzzwad

    Rumsfield: "this war might take two days, two weeks or two months, but it certainly won't take two years". Bush: "Mission accomplished". Cheney: "the insurgency is in it's death throes", May of 2005. These statements show the arrogance and incompetence of the last administration. And just because you tell enough lies long enough; doesn't mean it's going to happen. Iraq is still a mess, and always will be, until Iraq fights for it's independence, it will never be free!

    August 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      Hey buzzWAD, what do you think we've been doing. We've given them a chance to be free, to hold three straight elections where they choose who leads. They've been fighting side by side with us for years now trying to weed out as many of the people who want to create instability as we can. Now they are being charged with taking on that responsibility on their own. If we were there to take them over, we did that in about 5 days.....we were their to help them get rid of a tyrant and support them while we helped rebuild their nation. They are better off today then they were 7 years ago, thats for sure.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • dtjump

      Rumsfeld never said that. He thought that it would take 8 years.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • rod in va

      Sorry Buzzwad
      but that is like saying to a beaten wife "you need to fight back if you are ever to be free". Sometimes you need to take away the threat of violence/death and provide support before people would even dare to fight back. And sometmies it takes a generation of support so that the children are not afraid to speak up as they become adults..

      August 31, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    I find it amusing that the conservatives are making a big deal out of how we never would have gotten to this point but not for the brilliant decision of Bush to implement the "surge". First, I wouldn't say that living in constant fear of violence, terroism, and retribution is getting to a point we should be rejoicing over because I can almost guarantee you that there are a lot of ordinary Iraqi citizens who are not popping champaign corks tonight. Second, the "surge" wouldn't have been necessary had Bush listened to his generals (and not the civilian pentagon planners) and committed the correct amount of troops and resources in the first place. I think the number of units the generals were initially clamouring for before the war began were pretty close to the number of troops that ended up being committed as a result of the surge. So really the "surge" should have been called "listening to others". A skill, unfortunately, that Bush learned 3 years too late.

    August 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Pete Bogs

    The invasion of Iraq was based on lies, cost many lives and resources, and distracted us from our mission in Afghanistan. No one even mentions the name "Osama bin Laden" anymore. I can't believe Bush and his henchmen are still walking free.

    August 31, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AndrewR

    Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld should all be shot!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. P S

    Was what worth it? Seriously, what has been accomplished? Nothing. Did we win? What did we win? Nobody in Iraq ever attacked the US, so what did we accomplish? It was not worth since before the great Shrub invaded a sovereign nation who never attacked us. Bush should be in jail for treason, high crimes against America, and war crimes for killing millions of totally innocent civilians, men, women, children, unborn babies, etc.

    This war was pure evil since day one.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • p

      Big Oil companies got back into Iraq.
      Billions squandered, stolen and lost.
      thousands dead/maimed

      August 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      absolutely agree. Bush, the monster, is personally responsible for killing over 4,400 Americans so that he could try to redeem Daddy Dearest's reputation. Didn't work now did it, W?!?!

      August 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      could Bush be the "anti-christ" or the devil in disguise?

      August 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AndrewR

    Least we forget, we are in financial ruins because of this war.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • BettaRecognize

      Our financial ruins have little to do with this war and more to do with 3 idiots in office since 92....just sayin'

      August 31, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bill

    wasted American lives and money that could have been used elsewhere in the US for infrastructure construction and school systems

    August 31, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Art

    So not worth it. We went in on a lie that costs 4400 American lives and untold thousands of Iraqi civilian lives. All this and we are still no safer; perhaps worse off since we didn't capture the man who actually was responsible for 9/11 in the first place. And to top all this off Dubya destroyed our economy by spending $1 trillion on wars while providing tax breaks for the rich at the same time; nice going... Perhaps the enemy anticipated these moves by our then president and considered that America will effectively weaken itself by it's own behavior. If we had only kept our eye on the ball in Afghanistan perhaps that war would be over by now as well.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brenda

      3.5 trillion. And 9/11 wrecked the economy as well, remember. We would have been able to better recover from the effects of their attacks if we hadn't wasted so much money and energy on Iraq. They had nothing to do with 9/11. While granted Afghanistan (well the Taliban) refused to turn Bin Laden over to us – so we attack them. Then Iraq? I think you may be right. The "cowboy" president and all that... they knew if they attacked us – hurt our financial markets – and then Bush would go all cowboy on them – that we would have a hard time recovering.

      And don't forget – wasn't it cuirous has gasoline went from over $4 / gal to $2 / gal right after Obama was elected....

      August 31, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mel

    Thank you President Obama for putting an end to this prefabricated war. No not worth it. Bush and Chenney not caring just looking for their own interest. President Obama youre worth it. thank you.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Freedom_Fred

      Wow..... you are one brain washed individual. Thank God I smart enough to see through this guy. November = change

      August 31, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Don't worry mel, fred's brain is soaked in.....tea.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. ybs

    If it were worth it, let's do it again! Iran has WMDs & no democracy!

    Boehner, why wait? Let's invade Iran & send every patriotic GOP along with the religious right wing nuts there to fight. We'll ensure that they will get all the credit, as necessary, posthumously! 🙂

    August 31, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BettaRecognize

    Not worth losing american lives. We should have just nuked the damn place to start off with IMO. Bush was a chickensh.. in not doing so!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
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