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. yankeetexan

    Hell NO – it was a waste of lives.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. adam hunter

    the parents of the kids who died should be just as angry as the rest of us because they were robbed the most. They were sold a lie and paid the ultimate price.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    History could play out very well for Mr. Bush and Obama if we finish afgan the same way we are ending in Iraq, worth it, two years ago, now maybe, ya! But only time will tell!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • BettaRecognize

      Both will go down as the 2 worst Presidents in History...

      August 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Bushy is the worst US president of all times!!! Obama is just cleaning up Bushy's mess... so don't blame Obama...

      August 31, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PMD

    It's funny that the Republicans always give credit to the surge of 20,000 that made all the difference in the war in Iraq. How about the other 100,000 who has been there longer. Are they saying that you can end the hundreds of years of ethnic violence between the Sunnis, Shiite, Kurds, and Christians by just 20,000 troops. We didn't settle anything in Iraq. The problems and the ethnic violence are still there. The short letdown of violence was not due to the surge of troops, it was primarily due to the surge of MONEY that the U.S. govt. gave to Iraqi Tribal leaders to switch side.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ildie

    CNN, where is my comment on this topic?

    August 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. IraqWarVet

    According to fmr. Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neil and Colin Powell and others in the W. Adminsitration, W was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq 10 days into his administration. The neocons' ridiculous idealism (democratic ally in mid-east, peace btwn Israel and its neoghbors, oil contracts in new Iraq for Haliburton & US companies) is nauseating. 4400 US dead, thousands permanently disfigured, US prestige undermined by failure to kick ass and end of aura of omnipresent US intelligence due to intel failures in Iraq...a mess.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • IraqWarVet

      Oh yeah – and in case some jerkweed questions my patriotism, I enlisted in US Army in '98 for 4 years, was made to serve a 5th year due to the Stop-Loss, and served in Iraq w/ 4th Infantry Division in '03 (104 MI Bn) in Tikrit/ Samarra/ Balad/ other crappy places. I was a Sergeant. No hero, nothing special...just a regular soldier who did what I was told and did my best.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob, what did we achieve? Nada, nothing, end of one of dozens of corrupt regimes....cost, almost 5,000 lives and billions of don't need to agree with this travesty to support the troops, are we finally as a nation over that don't need to always support a war to be patriotic, if anything, Americans have an OBLIGATION to object, if the war was not just or a lie, which it was both unjust and a lie. Please folks, stop being blind sheep, that's what got us into this cluster in the first place.............IT WAS ALL A LIE, A LIE, A LIE, A LIE, A LIE!!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jack

    I am sure the Republicans would say YES!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. deforge

    do you see Iraq and Saddam attacking the WTC with Weapons of Mass Destruction?
    well den der ya go

    August 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. registered independent

    Saddam was a horrible dictator, but his genocide crimes extend back many years, so this was not a war regarding that. Was it worth it ??....If Iraq can create a stable government it will seem some sort of success but all in all............not worth the loss of one human soul for Americans/Iraqi citizens.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • cedarrapids

      And don't forget there was a time when he was a supposed 'ally' of the US. I guess people like that only become 'evil dictators' when they are against the US but not when they are for the US.

      August 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GK

    "Was it worth it?" Ask the families of the over 4,400 troops killed – No. Ask the families of the Iraqi civilians killed – No. Ask the therapists and counselors helping the veterans cope with PTSD and other traumatic issues – No. Ask the politicians whose pockets and campaigns are lined with Haliburton money – Yes. Ask Haliburton and other no-bid contractors who worked there for exorbitant amounts of money – Yes.
    Is war ever worth it? NO!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Vet

    Was it worth it? HELL NO !!!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. McLuhan

    Was it worth it? Will see.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. CowtownTxBill

    Absolutely NOT!

    August 31, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Erik

    President George W. Bush knowingly lied to us to get moral support for his invasion of Iraq, and while Congress gave him some fort of approval, it was not a declaration of war, which means that the entire operation was illegal. Furthermore, the invasion was botched when the American troops failed to maintain order in areas they conquered, standing by while looters carried stuff off. In addition, military experts who were actually over there spoke to the news media on the condition of anomymity, and stated that the invasion force was inadequate. Yes, Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator, but the world is crawling with evil dictators. What are we supposed to do, take them all out? Now, over 4,000 loyal, trained, educated Americans are dead, and thousnads more have long term injuries, in an attempt to facilitate democracy in a part of the world where the people start shooting if their candidate does not win the election. I honestly consider George W. to be subhuman slime, just as evil as Bill Clinton and Barak Obama.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Erik, only Bushy and his Republican goons are evil. Not Obama... He just inherited Bushy's mess and now he is trying to clean it up... Give Obama a chance to do his job. Once we vote all of Republican goons out of office it will be easier for Obama to do his job.

      August 31, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
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