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. GR

    The mission of the war was to disrupt world oil markets so that the Bushes, Cheneys, Saudi royals and bin Ladens could make billions of dollars trading oil futures and Bush/Cheney could plug Halliburton into the US Treasury. Yep, the mission was accomplished. It just wasn't the mission that we were told.

    .

    August 31, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Catherine in Milford

    It was obvious from the start that this was a total waste and that CNN was complicit. We spend several $ trillion and kill several hundred thousand to oust Sadam??? Mushroom clouds??? And we can't afford real health care in the US. And now we wonder why we're in financial trouble. Not a victory.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mo

      AMEN – totally agree. Useless.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sanjosemike

    Take a pause to think: "Do you really WANT Qusay or Uday Hussein to now be running Iraq?"

    sanjosemike

    August 31, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Who gives a damn? Saddam couldn't hurt us, so how back would these clowns have been?

      September 1, 2010 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. rgncgn

    no, it wasn't worth it. . . My God! Look at the costs against what was accomplished. Look closely at what the threat was at the time and the "response" to that threat. Look closely at who really benefitted$$$ from this war. Hindsight may be 20 20 but in looking back. . . was the Bush administration really that stupid? Were they really that evil? Was the stupidity an act to mask the evil? Most Americans think Iraq caused 911 and were allies with AlQueda. . . Why is that? Because of how it all was sold to us. We were fighting and winning a war in Afganistan when this decision was carried out. The delay and pulling of resourses in Afganistan is why its such a quagmire now. We would never paint the bravery and competency of our armed forces with the brush of evil, stupidity and incompetence that we paint the Bush administration with. . . but that administration should not be allowed to hide behind the flag or bask in the honor of our armed forces and get a free pass on all that they have wrought. It's not unpatriotic to say that this war was a big mistake

    August 31, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mathew

    No, the Iraq invasion was not worth it. There was no imminent threat of attack from Sadam, despite all Bush claims to the contrary. There were no WMDs, despite claims that there was undeniable proof they did exist. The US and the UN had unfettered access and could have searched every building in the country for illegal weapons. Instead we invaded, at the cost of thousands of US soldiers' lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The Bush administration took advantage of the good-hearted patriotism and trust our volunteer military offered and misused it. The Iraq invasion was based on lies. I'm very sorry for the unnecessary sacrifice by our military personnel. I would have stopped the invasion if I could.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. blue

    I don't feel any safer or more free because of the war in Iraq. All it did was save me a nickel on a gallon of gas...maybe.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      no actually gas price is more expensive now than before we invaded iraq...

      August 31, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CSnord

    Was it worth it? Considering that we accomplished almost nothing, I would say "no".

    August 31, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike Wong

    It's not worth it at all. Stupid Bushy and his administration went to war with Iraq for nothing: no WMD and costing thousands of US soldier's lives... Bushy should had concentrated on capturing Bin Laden and getting rid of Taliban. Now Obama had to clean up his mess...

    Bushy is the worst US President of all times!!! Period!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael Hunter

    This war was useless. I'm a horrible real estate broker.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David, Cincinnati

    The throngs to Beck prove that the iraq war was without worth. So many in the US can only react too late. Now only divine intervention can save us?

    August 31, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Charles

    Total waste. I'm sorry to say this, but our young people died for NOTHING. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqies. Who is the REAL villian?

    August 31, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. The Half Baked Lunatic

    I applaud Obama for getting our asses out of there as quickly as possible.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Totally agree with you!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Spencer Storer

    Was it worth it? Umm, what is different now? We just spent 1 bazillion dollars (rounded down) and seriously how did the world, Iraq or America prosper from that? Rhetorical question. Biggest waste of time and money ever.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Karl

    Totally not worthy of the lives that are lost and the money wasted. This war has put this country and others in a lot of financial difficulties. Nothing positive came out of this war, but death and misery.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fred

    The bottom line is that we now have control over the airspace above Iraq. We control the region around Iran which is important now that they have 'reached the point of no return' with their nuclear program.
    Beyond this, total waste of time, money, and lives.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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