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. Dale

    War, the unified one national religion of the U.S. serves only those who are sick with power and perverse in their abuse of it. Did one single death in Iraq take away any pain whatsoever from the families of 9/11? The Iraq war was a sham in which Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney committed treason and should be in prison.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • BettaRecognize

      let me guess...I bet you don't believe in the Death Penalty either?

      August 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      BettaRecognize
      let me guess...I bet you don't believe in the Death Penalty either?

      Life without parole is far worse punishment than the easy way out death penalty. However it would not be unreasonable to see those three treasonous guys hanging from a rope like Saddam, they certainly deserve
      extreme punishment for their massive war crimes.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. openminded19

    HELL NO. It was based on lies anyway! How is that "worth it"? We started that after 911 and it has been a farce! The minute we left, the violence started up again and will probably continue. We have no business being there! The military just goes where they are assigned, I don't blame them or have ill feelings towards them. thanks for what you did. It's time to come home and focus on OUR NATION.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. B-Dog

    No Freakin way was this worth it. Saddam had NOTHING to do with any Al-Qaeda terrorists, if anything he was keeping them in check in that area of the world. But hey.... Bush had to finish what daddy started.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Karen P. MO

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe many Dems signed up for this war because they believed the lies about the WMD's, no? I will always respect our troops, I have utmost admiration for those who volunteer to serve. My son was in the USMC. But was it all worth it? Only time will tell. I do know that I will be voting Democrat as a result of seeing the infighting in the GOP; a bunch of power-hungary do-nothings who continue to use fear as their siron. They do not care about the middle class at all. What Boehner is doing today is disrespectful of our President and a disgrace to our country.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      I agree with you... Let's vote out all the Republicans!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. txkboy

    Pure and simple. Politics killed both wars. The US soldiers dismayed over orders they carry-out. The government using our tax dollars to "bribe", yes, I said it, "bribe" the tribal leaders to be American sympathyzers, while giving intel to the Taliban and AQ. When is America going to wake up and elect leaders who are "hands on" and try not to buy they're way out of situations? The goals have not been met and the troops are the ones that are paying the price. If you don't have a clear understanding for a deliberate mission for them, then send every last one of them home. I thought the idea of nation building was the work of the State Department and the CIA, not uniformed combat troops. The politicians should fund the wars, and leave strategy and mission planning up to the military. Then let the military report back to the oversight committee what works and what needs they need to change. No politician should ever worry about counting bullets that a soldier uses in a firefight. Just keep supply them, until they are no longer needed. To my fellow brothers and sisters, be safe, be strong, and can't wait until you come home.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tannen

    It wasn't worth ONE single life lost.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Regina

    This war will go down as a SMUDGE in our history. No glory in it. It was poorly planned (not a slam to our troops – you all did your job and valiantly so) and beyond unnecessary. Bush/Cheney have the blood of many of our brave troops & Iraqi citizenry on their hands. God Bless Obama for working to bring an end to this debacle.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      The plan to get rid of Saddam was perfectly planned, but Bushy and his Republican goons did not have any solid plans for occupying Iraq after Saddam was gone...

      August 31, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Buzzwad

    Chris; lets see if they are better off in another 7+ years, and, remember, we still have over 50,000 Americans overTHERE. Wonder what the monthly tab is on that? As Yogi said, it ain't over....

    August 31, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. PollySantaFe

    Barack has integrity. This is partially why I voted for him. He has tackled one major issue after another. And handled himself in an honorable manner, with honesty and integrity. The stimulus package to save the economy from crashing, the desperately needed health care reform, now ending the US involvement in fighting in Iraq, and he'll move on to untangling the complex issues around immigration. The man deserves our thanks.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Totally agree with you Polly...

      August 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bonnie

      Polly . U are 100% right about our president!

      August 31, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JohnnyZ

    It was not only NOT worth it, the Iraq war was an abomination of sense. God Bless the warriors, living and dead, but man, were they sold a sham. What did we have before the Iraq war? What do we have now? Not much except 4K+ dead Americans.

    Afghanistan could have been addressed and done with, Instead, we invade Iraq? Why?

    August 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Shawn

    They lied and lied and lied. They got on TV to build up the fear numerous times when this country was already angry from 9/11. The war was planned long time ago and was unjust.

    We as a country were played like a fiddle!!!

    When have you ever saw the leader of a country hiding in a fox hole? Do you think another country can invade the US and have our president on the run. We aren't perfect over here – so what makes us the world police? We don't invade China – I wonder why!!!! Impeach Bush!!! He took advantage of the situation and a country that couldn't properly defend herself. We lost thousand of great soldiers. They lost maybe a million civilians!!! Wow!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ROJOBULL

    No way. All we did was trade an islamic dictatorship for an islamic republic. They didn't like us then and they don't like us now. Great waste of money & lives all for George Bush's vanity. Bush was hands down the worst thing to happen to this country.

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

      I agreed!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. john R.

    What not have a war? When people cowered and attack the U.S.A. with a sneak attack and kill thousands do the anti-war people in this country think we should just sit there and say hmm “that’s too bad let’s look for a brighter day tomorrow”? Will the rest of us know that something should be done? Was it good to bring Saddam to court yes! Was it good to kick some butt of those who would come to our country and attack us without declaration first, yes! Should people sign up and join the armed forces to defend this country even if it might cost them their life? Most do not think that they would be in a war and get damaged, they think hey I got a job I can learn skills have training, get more money after the 4 year so, to go to any college and I get to see the world. Then when they do get out from service they can all ways find a job, or should be able. MEOW was just saying things as he sees them and he might not be that far off from the truth (in some ways). Case in point I scored twice as much on one of the test to get into the Army the recruiting officer said to me “you scored twice as much as the other guy; he is ready to sign up why are you not signing up.” And I was like umm because I scored twice as much, I think college first would be a better path.
    But for $3.5 Trillion dollars, umm maybe the U.S.A should stop going to full scale wars only the people who want to fight and know that they could die (there are people who join up in hopes of seeing action) should be sent in, and for that much money can’t they just make the Iron man suit from the movie or something like it. If they did then id even think about joining.
    Perhaps the U.S.A. should just work under cover and takeout groups that need to be taken out or people that need to be dealt with. If Iran really wants to have love for the terrorist and fight the U.S.A. then maybe the head guy should be taken care of just him and some of his guards and then see how the country feels about attacking.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. louise

    Bush, Cheney and co., simply SHOULD NOT be able to sleep at night for what they did to our country and the Iraq people.....We have thousands of families that will never be the same, and for what? Thousands of Iraqs that were left homeless, misplaced, and for what? Trillions of dollars spent, and for What? Millions of dollars that were never accounted for, the Halliburtons and co., all got filthy rich and on and on and on.... too many lies and deceit to mention. and for what? Now the Tea Party people and right want to complain about the situation our country is in.,,Where were they then? Our country has been devasted by all of this and all we can get in congress is division and descent from the right, Filibuster this and that never to fix or solve anything for our people in America that are suffering. You want to complain about the homeless, but don't even understand that 60% of them are our own vets. No health care. We need HEALTHINSURANCE REFORM, we can't afford the premiums, it doesn't have anything to do with our health care officials.....but you Tea Party people just don't get it.....ABSOLUTELY NO, NO THIS WAR WAS A DISASTER TO OUR COUNTRY. IT ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      Let's vote all of Republicans out of office this November!!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. yankeetexan

    Hell NO

    August 31, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
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